What are the Cambodian New Year traditions?

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What Are the Cambodian New Year Traditions?

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Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is a joyous and significant event that is steeped in tradition. The celebration typically lasts for three days, and it is a time when Cambodians gather with family and friends to honor their ancestors, pay respect to elders, and participate in a range of cultural customs and activities.

From cleaning rituals to festive feasts and lively games, the Cambodian New Year is a time when the rich cultural traditions of this beautiful country are on full display.

Key Takeaways

  • Cambodian New Year, or Chaul Chnam Thmey, is a significant event in Cambodian culture
  • The celebration typically lasts for three days and is a time for honoring ancestors and elders
  • Cambodian New Year is characterized by a range of traditional customs and activities, including cleaning rituals, food preparation, and games

History of Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is one of the most important annual festivals in Cambodia, celebrated by millions of Cambodians around the world. The festival takes place in mid-April, and marks the end of the harvesting season and the start of a new year according to the Khmer lunar calendar.

The origins of the Cambodian New Year can be traced back to ancient Buddhist traditions, when villagers would gather to honor their ancestors and perform various religious offerings and rituals. The festival has evolved over centuries, incorporating various Hindu and animist practices, and was officially recognized as a national holiday in Cambodia in 1871.

History of Cambodian New Year

According to legend, the Cambodian New Year tradition began with the tale of a celestial nymph named Mera, who was reborn each year after being swept away by the river. To welcome her back, people would celebrate with food, dancing, and other festivities, which eventually transformed into the modern-day Chaul Chnam Thmey.

Throughout Cambodia’s history, the festival has been a symbol of national unity and a source of cultural pride, even in the face of war, genocide, and social upheaval. Today, the festival is celebrated by Cambodians of all backgrounds and is a time for family reunions, community gatherings, and religious observances.

Dates and Duration of Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year, known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is celebrated in mid-April. It typically runs for three days, but depending on the region or family, it can last up to a week.

The dates of Cambodian New Year correspond to the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the rainy season, which also marks the start of the Cambodian solar calendar. The festival falls on the same dates as the traditional new year in other Theravada Buddhist countries such as Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.

During the three-day festival, Cambodians return to their hometowns to reunite with their families, pay respects to their ancestors, and participate in religious ceremonies. The first day of the festival is called Moha Sangkran, the second day is Vanabot, and the final day is called Leung Sakk.

Preparations for Cambodian New Year

Preparations for Cambodian New Year begin weeks in advance, with families thoroughly cleaning their homes to rid them of any lingering bad luck from the previous year. This is also done to welcome the new year and fresh start with a clean slate. All members of the household participate in this cleaning process, which includes everything from sweeping the floors to washing the windows and even repainting the walls.

In addition to home cleaning, Cambodians also visit their local pagodas to perform cleaning rituals and offer food and donations to the monks. These visits are believed to bring good luck and blessings for the new year ahead.

Another important tradition during Cambodian New Year preparations is the creation of sand stupas, or chet-veak. These are small, symbolic structures made from sand and often decorated with flowers and incense. They are built in front of pagodas or in front of homes as a symbol of respect for ancestors and to bring good luck to the family for the new year.

Overall, preparations for Cambodian New Year reflect the importance of beginning the new year on a positive and auspicious note, with an emphasis on cleanliness, respect for ancestors, and good fortune.

Traditional Cambodian New Year Customs and Rituals

Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is a time for observing traditional customs and rituals. These practices have been passed down from generation to generation and are an important aspect of Cambodian culture.

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Bathing Buddha Statues

One of the most important rituals during Cambodian New Year is the bathing of Buddha statues. This is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and prosperity for the year ahead. Devotees will visit pagodas and temples to carry out this ritual, which involves pouring water over the Buddha statues.

Pouring Water on Elders

Another important custom is the act of pouring water on elders. This is a sign of respect and is believed to wash away any bad luck or negative energy. Elders will often sit on chairs or benches, while younger family members pour water over their hands.

Paying Tribute to Ancestors

During Cambodian New Year, families will also pay tribute to their ancestors. This involves offering food and drink to the spirits of deceased loved ones, as a way of honouring their memory. It is believed that this act will bring good fortune to the family for the year ahead.

Lighting Incense and Candles

Several rituals during Cambodian New Year involve lighting incense and candles. This is believed to help guide the spirits of ancestors back to the living world, and is also considered a way of bringing good luck and prosperity into the home.

Traditional Clothing

Wearing traditional clothing is another important aspect of Cambodian New Year. Men and women will often wear brightly coloured silk clothing, with intricate patterns and designs. This is a way of honouring their culture and preserving traditions.

Overall, Cambodian New Year is a time for honouring tradition, paying respect to ancestors, and embracing the culture of Cambodia. The customs and rituals observed during this time are an important reminder of the country’s rich history and heritage.

Traditional Cambodian New Year Food

The celebration of Cambodian New Year is not complete without the traditional food that is prepared and enjoyed during this time. Cambodian New Year food is both delicious and significant, representing blessings, good luck, and prosperity for the upcoming year.

One of the most important dishes is trei ngeat, which is a sweet and sour fish soup that is usually served on the first day of the New Year. This dish is said to bring good luck and happiness. Another popular dish is nhoam svay bekie, which is a sour and spicy salad made with green papaya, carrots, and peanuts. This dish is believed to bring a healthy and prosperous year ahead.

Kralan is another must-have dish during Cambodian New Year. It is a dessert made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and beans, which are cooked inside bamboo tubes over an open fire. This dish is a reminder of the harvest season and is thought to bring abundance and prosperity to the family.

Other traditional Cambodian New Year foods include num ansom chrouk, which is a sticky rice cake with pork and ginger, and chha kdao ko, which is a sweet and chewy rice cake covered in sesame seeds.

It is customary to prepare and offer these dishes to friends, family, and neighbors during Cambodian New Year. Eating together symbolizes unity and strengthens the bonds of community.

Traditional Cambodian New Year Games and Activities

During Cambodian New Year, families and friends often gather to enjoy various traditional games and activities. These games and activities are a significant part of the holiday and provide an opportunity for people to come together and have fun.

Chol Chhoung

One popular game is Chol Chhoung, which is a game of throwing and catching a ball. The players divide into two teams, with each team standing in a line facing each other. The players then throw a small ball back and forth, trying to catch it with a small bamboo basket. The team that drops the ball loses the game.

Leak Kanseng

Another popular game is Leak Kanseng, which is a game of balance. A group of boys and girls sit in a circle and pass a small pig-shaped object made of banana leaves from one to another using their feet. The goal is to keep the object in the air without dropping it. If someone drops it, they have to perform a dare or give a small gift to the other players in the circle.

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Bos Angkunh

Bos Angkunh is another traditional Cambodian game played during the New Year celebrations. It is a game of balance and concentration where players take turns trying to stack small objects like stones or paper cards as high as possible without the stack falling over. The player who makes the highest stack wins.

Klah Klok

Klah Klok is a musical game often played during Cambodian New Year. The game involves a group of players sitting in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle hits two bamboo sticks together while the players in the circle sing and clap along to a traditional song. The person in the middle then tosses the sticks to someone in the circle, who takes over hitting the sticks and starts a new song. If the person in the middle drops the sticks while hitting them together, they have to switch places with the person who caught the sticks.

These traditional games and activities provide a fun and engaging way for Cambodian families and friends to come together and celebrate the holiday. They also help to preserve the cultural traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations.

Cambodian New Year Festivals and Events

Cambodian New Year is celebrated with great enthusiasm, and there are numerous festivals and events that take place throughout the country. These events provide an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the start of the new year.

Angkor Sankranta

One of the largest Cambodian New Year events is the Angkor Sankranta festival, which takes place in Siem Reap. This festival celebrates the Khmer culture and traditions and includes various activities such as a parade, cultural performances, and traditional games. Visitors can also enjoy traditional food and witness the beauty of the Angkor temples lit up at night.

Bon Om Touk

Bon Om Touk, also known as the Water Festival, is another major Cambodian New Year event. It is held in November and marks the end of the rainy season. The festival includes boat races, traditional music, and dancing. Crowds gather along the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh to watch the boat races and enjoy the festivities.


Bokator is a Cambodian martial art that dates back more than a thousand years. During Cambodian New Year, special Bokator events are held where people can watch demonstrations and participate in workshops to learn the art themselves.

Giant Puppet Parade

The Giant Puppet Parade is a newer addition to Cambodian New Year celebrations. It takes place in the capital city of Phnom Penh and involves large, colorful puppets being paraded through the streets. The puppets represent different aspects of Khmer culture and history.

These are just some of the many festivals and events that take place during Cambodian New Year. Each event celebrates a different aspect of Cambodian culture and provides an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the holiday.

Significance of Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is an important cultural event in Cambodia. The holiday is rooted in Buddhist traditions and marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year. As one of the most important festivals in Cambodia, it holds great significance to the Cambodian people.

The holiday allows Cambodians to pay respect to their ancestors and pray for good luck and prosperity in the coming year. It is a time for families to come together, honor their heritage, and celebrate their community. The holiday is also an important time for many Cambodians to reflect on their personal growth and renew their commitment to leading a virtuous life.

Chaul Chnam Thmey is deeply intertwined with Cambodian culture and is a time when Cambodians express their national identity. The festival underscores the importance of family, community, and the Buddhist faith in Cambodian society and is a powerful manifestation of the country’s unique cultural heritage.

Modern Celebrations and Changes in Cambodian New Year Traditions

As with many cultural celebrations around the world, Cambodian New Year traditions have evolved over time, with some changes in how the holiday is celebrated in modern times. One notable difference is the shift towards more commercialized, urban celebrations, with many young people preferring to spend their holidays in cities rather than in rural areas with their families.

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Another change is the increased influence of technology, with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram playing a role in shaping how people share and document their holiday experiences. In recent years, there has also been a greater emphasis on environmental awareness, with efforts to reduce waste and promote eco-friendly practices during the holiday.

Despite these changes, however, the core traditions and values of Cambodian New Year remain deeply ingrained in Cambodian culture. Families still come together to observe the holiday and pass down traditional customs to younger generations, and the holiday continues to be a time of joy, reflection, and celebration.


In conclusion, Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, is a significant cultural holiday in Cambodia, celebrated with great enthusiasm and tradition. The festival has its roots in ancient agricultural customs and is steeped in history and cultural significance.

During this festival, Cambodian people come together to honor their ancestors, perform traditional rituals, prepare and enjoy traditional food, and participate in games and activities. The festival also provides an opportunity for families to reunite and strengthen their bonds.

Although the traditions of the Cambodian New Year have evolved over time, and new elements have been added to the celebrations, the essence of the festival remains the same. Cambodian New Year traditions provide a window into the country’s rich cultural heritage and serve as a manifestation of the Cambodian people’s deep-rooted pride in their customs and traditions.

As Cambodia continues to modernize and develop, it is crucial to preserve these cultural traditions and ensure that they continue to play an important role in the country’s social and cultural fabric. Cambodian New Year traditions are a source of identity and cultural heritage for the Cambodian people, and they serve as a reminder of the country’s deep-rooted cultural heritage and traditions.


What are the Cambodian New Year traditions?

Cambodian New Year traditions are a rich mix of religious, cultural, and historical practices that are observed during the New Year celebrations in Cambodia.

What is the history of the Cambodian New Year?

Cambodian New Year, also known as Chaul Chnam Thmey, has a long history dating back centuries. It is rooted in ancient agrarian traditions and has deep cultural significance for the Cambodian people.

When is Cambodian New Year celebrated, and how long does it last?

Cambodian New Year is traditionally celebrated in mid-April and typically lasts for three days, although some festivities may continue for longer periods in certain regions.

What preparations are made for the Cambodian New Year?

Preparations for Cambodian New Year involve various customs, including cleaning and purifying houses, making offerings to ancestors, and gathering necessary items for the festivities.

What are the traditional customs and rituals observed during the Cambodian New Year?

Cambodian New Year is marked by several customs and rituals, such as bathing Buddha statues, pouring water on elders for good luck, and performing traditional dances and music.

What are the traditional foods enjoyed during the Cambodian New Year?

Traditional Cambodian New Year food includes dishes such as somlah machou kreung, amok, and kralan. These dishes hold cultural and symbolic significance during the festive celebrations.

What games and activities are played during the Cambodian New Year?

Popular games and activities during Cambodian New Year include the tik tak toe, tug of war, and Chol Chhoung. These traditional games bring communities together in a spirit of joy and camaraderie.

Are there any festivals and events associated with the Cambodian New Year?

Cambodian New Year is marked by lively festivals and events across the country. Notable celebrations include the Angkor Sangkran Festival in Siem Reap and the traditional dances and parades in Phnom Penh.

What is the significance of the Cambodian New Year?

Cambodian New Year holds great cultural and historical significance for the Cambodian people. It is a time for reunion, renewal, and paying respects to ancestors and elders.

How have modern celebrations changed Cambodian New Year traditions?

Modern celebrations of Cambodian New Year have evolved to incorporate contemporary elements while still honoring traditional customs. Changes include the use of technology, vibrant street parties, and fusion cuisine.

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