Today is the first of Cambodian New Year, regularly celebrated for three days starting on April 13th or 14th and coinciding with the end of the harvest season. Here in sunny California, celebrations have been happening since the beginning of the month: April 1 (Nixon Library, Los Angeles), April 2nd (Cambodian New Year Parade, Long Beach; Cesar Chavez Educational Center, Oakland), and April 9 (El Dorado Park, Long Beach). But don’t worry, you still can enjoy celebrations in Stockton, California all this weekend starting Thursday, April 14 through Sunday, April 17. Find out more about these celebrations here.
How is Cambodian New Year celebrated?
Here in the U.S., Cambodians and friends congregate at parks or temples to share traditional Cambodian food such as barbequed chicken and beef skewers, papaya salad, Cambodian chicken curry, various noodle soups, and other favorites. Traditional games such as “Chol Chhoung” where two teams avoid getting hit by a tossed ball for fear of having to dance like a chicken if hit and “Klah Klo,” a gambling game involving a mat and dice are played. Stages are usually set up to showcase traditional music, dancing, and maybe even a fashion show. All celebrations center around spending time with friends and family.
Three Days of Significance
Traditionally in Cambodia, the New Year is celebrated over three days, each day with its own significance. The first day, Maha Songkran, is the ending of the year and the beginning of the new one. People light candles, burn incense, and offer thanks at Buddhist shrines. In addition, people start building a sand “mountain” in which each grain of sand represents gains merits for the builder which will produce more happiness and good health. The mountains continue to grow throughout the New Year celebration. The second day, Virak Wanabat, is a lesser known day in which people practice generosity by giving to the less fortunate in their families and communities, participating in service activities, and appreciating the gifts before them. It is an occasion to reflect on life and assess possible new life directions. On the third day, Tngay Leang Saka, statues of the Buddha are cleansed with perfumed water, a gesture considered a kind deed that will bring good luck, long life, and happiness. The cleansing also symbolizes a hope for enough rainfall for the rice harvest season in the coming year. This is also the day that the sand “mountain” is blessed by monks and disassembled.
The second day, Virak Wanabat, and the Devata Giving Circle
Tied to the value of giving, Virak Wanabat is an opportunity to further change and make change in the lives of others and develop a culture of giving and service. Similar to the values of the Devata Giving Circle, a grassroots vehicle for shared giving committed to helping the Cambodian American community, Virak Wanabat is a chance for individuals and communities to be change agents. As the first Cambodian American giving circle in the United States, the Devata Giving Circle empowers Cambodian American women and girls by supporting important work in the community. Through pooled giving, the Circle is part of a larger community of givers and helps realize change with small monetary investments.
Last year, the Devata Giving Circle made our first grant to Banteay Srei, an Oakland-based organization dedicated to working with young women and girls, ages 14-19, who are at risk or are being sexually exploited. Banteay Srei’s programs promote leadership development, cultural awareness, and self empowerment in order to create a new generation of fierce, independent, and empowered young women. We plan on making two more grants this year. In the spirit of giving and fresh starts, please help us welcome the New Year by giving to the Devata Giving Circle and empower Cambodian American women and girls.
And to end as we began, “Soursdey Chnam Thmei!” from the women of the Devata Giving Circle!