Khmer New Year, or ‘Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei’ in the Khmer language, is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days. Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”, 2014 it starts on 14th of April. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvest season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the start of the rainy season.
Most of the Phnom Penh residents will pack their bags and get ready to head out to the countryside to celebrate Khmer New Year. Phnom Penh will be left seemingly pretty quite during these days so if you want to experience the celebration you should also pack your bag and head out to any of the villages on the country side.
In the villages the people engage in traditional Khmer games, they paly games such as the Bas Angkunh ‘seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanséng ‘twisted-scarf hide’ and dance to traditional Khmer songs.
The first day of Khmer new year is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits. In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.
The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders. In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.
The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.
The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.
April 10th, 2014
Cambodia is a country located in South-East Asia. On some maps itis referred to by its former name, Kampuchea (kam-poo-CHEE-uh). It ismostly flat land with a few mountains on the southern border. Some ofthe countries surrounding Cambodia are Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, andMalaysia. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh (puh NAWM pen). Khmer(cah'MY) is the official language. The population is 7.1 millionpeople.
Cambodia has undergone conflict and invasions for several years.Because of these wars, hundreds of thousands of educated people havefled the country to find safety. With the loss of so many skilledworkers the country has been weakened. As a result of this lossCambodia is very poor.
Agriculture is a way of life in Cambodia. There are many smallfarms and plantations. Many farmers harvest rice. Cambodia is alsoone of the major world producers and exporters of rubber.
The people of Cambodia are concerned about the well-being ofothers. Helping one another is a custom of the South-East Asianpeople.
The main religion of Cambodia is Buddhism. With this religioncomes the belief that one can be freed from the pain and suffering ofthe world through righteous thinking and living. Buddhists believethat a person's life in the hereafter will be better if they filltheir present life with good conduct and good deeds. The Buddhistmonks teach them how to live a moral life and aid them inunderstanding the teachings of Buddha. Cambodian families often go tothe Temple to pray to Buddha. Many families have small altars intheir homes where they can pray to Buddha and their ancestors.
The Cambodian New Year is one of the major celebrations in theCambodian culture. It is based on the lunar calendar, and iscelebrated in mid-April, which is the first month of the year inCambodia. This time of year also represents the end of the harvest.It is a time for farmers to enjoy the fruits of their harvest andrelax before the rainy season begins. An astrologer determines theexact date for which the celebration will be held.
The celebration lasts for three days. During this time severalpeople take work off to commemorate the new year. They spend timevisiting family and friends, as well as the Buddhist pagodas. TheBuddhist religion plays a major role in many of the celebrationsactivates.
The New Year is a celebration that is prepared for long inadvance. Part of this preparation includes the cleaning of theirhomes. The people clean them thoroughly to rid them of any uncleanspirits. They also buy silk to make new clothes. The men and boyswear black pants with white rounded-neck shirts, while the women andgirls wear skirts with colorful, decorated robes. The clean house andnew clothes represent a new beginning.
The celebration lasts for three days. Each day has a name andactivities attached. Day one is called Maha Sahgkrant (MOH-hah sahngKRAHN). It is the entry into the New Year, signaled by the drum orbell of the Buddhist temple. With the sounding, it is believed thatthe New Angel arrives. Throughout the day the people participate inceremonies and games. One of these activities is the building of asmall sand "mountain." Each piece of sand that is added is believedto produce more health and happiness in their lives. The people bringfood for the monks and pray with them. There is a feast oftraditional foods such as peanut curries, noodles and treemushrooms.
The second day is Vana Bat. It is a time for more praying. Thisday is a day to show consideration to elders. Parents, grandparents,and teachers are given gifts from children out of respect. It is alsoa time to serve. Cambodians offer charity to the less fortunate,participate in service activities, and forgive others of misdeedsthat may have been done to them. The people continue to add to theirsand mountain.
The final day is called Loeung Sack. On this day the monks blessthe sand mountain. This is also the day for the cleansing of theBuddha statues. The people wash their statues with perfumed water. Itis thought to be a kind deed that will bring good luck, long life andhappiness. The bathing also symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfallfor the rice harvest.
The Cambodian New Year is observed in other countries, includingthe United States, by many Cambodian immigrants. In the United Statesthe celebration only lasts for two days. Many of the same ceremoniesand activities are planned for and participated in. This allows forthose who fled their country to remember their culture and share itwith their children.
Ainsley, W. F., Elbow, G. S., (1995). World Geography: People inTime and Place. Morristown, NJ, Needham, MA: Silver Burdett Ginn
Banks, J. A., Craven, J., (1993). The World Around Us: WorldRegions. New York: Macmillan/McGraw School Publishing Co.
Chiemruom, S. , (1992). Dara's Cambodian New Year: Teachers Guide.Boston, The Children's Museum.
Students will compare and contrastthe New Year celebration in Cambodia to the celebration in the UnitedStates.
Students will cooperate in cleaningthe classroom in preparation for the celebration of the Cambodian NewYear.
Students will write the differentactivities that take place on each of the three days of the CambodianNew Year celebration.
Students will show respect to anelder by writing and delivering a card to them.
Students will participate in classdiscussions by sharing their thoughts and feelings about issuespertaining to the Cambodian New Year.
Students will mathematicallydetermine the amount of beans added to the "mountain" during thethree day celebration.
- Introduction and preparationactivity (2 class periods)
- Maha Sahgkrant: 1st day of theCambodian New Year (1 class period)
-Vana Bat: 2nd day of theCambodian New Year (2 class periods)
- Loeung Sack: 3rd day of theCambodian New Year (1 class period)
If possible, teach this unit inApril (preferably during or around the time of the actual celebrationof the Cambodian New Year).
graphic organizer (see appendix)
dry beans or macaroni (to build amountain)
construction paper and markers formaking a card
. Brainstorm (Day 1): Have the words"Happy New Year" written on the board. Ask the students to tell youwhat they think about when they read those words. Guide the studentsinto a discussion about the New Year. Write the students ideas andthoughts on the board (i.e. parties, whistles, food, dancing, latenights, the dropping of the apple in New York, family, etc.).
. Mini-lecture (Day 1): Explain tothe students that other countries in the world celebrate the New Yearin different ways. Explain that you are going to discuss specificallythe celebration of the Cambodian New Year. Ask if anyone knows whereCambodia is on the world map (If you have a globe, use this as wellso that the students will have a better visualization of whereCambodia is in relation to the United States). If so, allow thestudent(s) to show the class where it is. If not, show them yourself.Give them a brief description of the country.
. Graphic Organizer (Day 1): Discussthe Cambodian New Year. Explain that the celebration occurs inmid-April, and that it lasts for three days. Talk about each of thethree days (Maha Sahgkrant, Vana Bat, and Loeung Sack) and thedifferent activities that occur each day. Give the students a graphicorganizer (see appendix) that they can fill in as you discuss thedifferent days.
. Concept Development (Day 1): Talkwith the students about the great preparation that goes into theCambodian New Year, specifically the cleaning of the houses to ridthem of evil spirits, and the making and wearing of new clothes.Discuss the concept of symbolism with them and make sure that theyunderstand the symbolism in these preparation activities (cleaningthe house and wearing new clothes are symbolic of a newbeginning).
. Activity (Day 1): Have thestudents clean the room completely. They should clean out theirdesks, dust all shelves and counters, wash windows and mirrors, cleanchalk boards, vacuum/sweep the floors, etc. Make sure that studentsall have responsibilities (individually or as groups). This activitycould be done during the last half hour or so of class, just beforedismissal.
. Mini-lecture/Activity (Day 2):Teach the students about Maha Sahgkrant. Discuss the signal of thenew year (drum or bell). You may choose to have one of the schoolbells (lunch or recess) signal the beginning of the New Year in yourclass. Discuss the events of this particular day with the students.Talk about the New Angel, Thevada (DAY-veh-dah). The Cambodiansbelieve that each year a new angel comes to be a guardian over themand their family. Talk about the sand "mountain" that the Cambodiansbuild on the temple grounds. Cambodians believe that their lives willbe as blessed as their are grains of sand. Each student will be givena small cup of dry beans (no more than 20 beans). Have them eachcount their beans (the numbers will vary from student to student) andrecord it on a piece of paper. Make sure the students record thenumber, because they will use it later on in another activity. Afterthat, have them place their dry beans in the back of the room on apiece of newspaper. This will be the beginning of our class sand"mountain" (more like "mole-hill", but it will be a fun activity).For each of the three days the students will be given more dry beansto add to the sand "mountain." Each day they must write down thenumber of beans that they add.
. Teacher-Directed Writing Activity(Day 3): Teach the students about Vana Bat. Discuss the activities ofthis day of celebration. Particularly focus on the considerationgiven to elders on this day. Have the students brainstorm some of thepeople they would give gifts to during this celebration. Discuss as aclass why it would be important to pay respect to our parents,grandparents, teachers, etc. Discuss how they enrich our lives. Takea class vote on someone in the school that they could make a big cardfor (janitor, favorite teacher, principal) and then write a card forthis person on a large piece of paper. The card could tell them ofour appreciation for the acts that they do which make our livesbetter. Assign a few students to color the card. You may choose toattach candy. Afterwards, deliver the card as a class to theappropriate person.
. Individual Writing Activity (Day3): Have the students write a note with illustrations for someone whois older than them that they want to pay respect to. They will eithermail or personally deliver this card.
. Mini-lecture (Day 4): Explain tothe students about the 3rd day of the Cambodian New Year, LoeungSack. Tell them about the washing of the Buddha with perfumed water,and how the Cambodians believe that they will receive good luck andhappiness through this deed. There is symbolism in this that shouldbe pointed out (the bathing symbolizes hope for sufficient rain fallfor the rice harvest).
. Integrated Math Activity (Day 4):On the final day, the monks bless the sand "mountain," securing thehealth and happiness that each grain represents. As a class, figureout how many dry beans are in the class sand (bean) "mountain." Firstof all, have each student calculate how many dry beans they eachcontributed. Next, have the students get into groups (4 or 5 in eachgroup) and calculate how many beans were contributed by the group.Finally, take the totals of the groups and determine a class figure.As a class talk about how the people in Cambodia believe that eachgrain of sand represents blessings and good fortune. Discuss the goodfortune that you hope will come to the class based on this hill ofbeans (no pun intended).
. Discussion (Day 4): Aftercompleting the activities, discuss what the students feelings areabout the celebration of the Cambodian New Year. Explain that manyimmigrants from Cambodia celebrate the New Year here in the UnitedStates in much the same manner as a way to preserve theirculture.
Graphic organizers from the mini-lecture on day 1
Participation in room cleaning (completing responsibilities)
Completed letter paying respect to an elder
participation in class discussion(s)
The Cambodian New Year
*Cleaning the house to rid it of evil spirits
*making and wearing new clothes
Day 1: Maha Sahgkrant
*Activities and events
Day 2: Vana Bat
*Activities and events
Day 3: Leoung Sack
*Activities and events
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