“New Year in April?!?”, you may ask. Don’t worry, my non-Buddhist friends also asked me that in a rather incredulous tone, the same kind of incredulous response I get from them upon learning that after nine years, I am still here in Cambodia. But that’s another story.
To answer the question… yes, dear friends. Not all cultures celebrate the new year on January 1st, and one of them is Cambodia.
The Khmer New Year started Tuesday, April 14. It began around 1:36pm, according to the Buddhist astrology, and runs until today, April 16th. Here, and in other Buddhist countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, among others, the new year is based on astrological calculations. When the old year ends and the new year begins, is also based on these calculations. So the year here now is 2553 BE (Buddhist Era) — that is, 2,553 years since Buddha achieved enlightenment and entered the state of nirvana.
The first day of the celebration is called the grand Maha Songkran, or the first day of the Khmer New Year. According to the Buddhist beliefs, angels known as apsaras or devatas come down to replace the old ones here to watch the earth. Cambodians clad in their best clothes go to wats and pay homage to Buddha and offer food to the monks.
The second day is called vanabot. It is the time when families donate or give to their less fortunate neighbours and relatives. They also go to wats for a special ceremony dedicated to their ancestors. The third day is called leung sakk, and the one I like the most. Cambodians wash all their Buddha statues in scented water. Children pay respects to their elders by washing their feet in water, and in turn, they are blessed by them. Read more about Khmer New Year traditions here.