Cambodian people always follow the customs and both national ceremonies and religious ones that are the heritage of Cambodians passed on from our ancestors.
Some ceremonies are done according to the season, and occasions, like the Water Festival, Pchum Ben's Day, Khmer New Year's Day and the others. I would like to tell you about The Khmer New Year's Day.
Every year in Cambodia, people celebrate New Year's Day, which in Khmer is "BON CHOUL CHHNAM KHMER".As is the custom, they celebrate this ceremony over three days i.e on the last day of the old year, on the day between the old and new year, and the other day being the first of the new year. Nowadays, most of the country people celebrate for a week.
All the students, farmers and workers are free from work in order to join the ceremony. This ceremony is the happiest of all, because all Cambodian people everywhere join and enjoy the time. This ceremony is held every April or May. About two days before the ceremony, the houses, the pagodas, the departments, the parks and the public places are cleaned thoroughly and look very lovely and pleasant.
One day before the ceremony, all the members in the family stay together happily . They put sand on a plate or tray to pile it up high like a small hill. This pile of sand is called "Phnom Khsach" meaning Sand Mountain. It is a symbol of the Chola Muny Chedey (shrine that the God King (Indra) conserved the Buddha's hair and teeth) in the second level heaven that is the realm of the thirty-three Gods called Davadimsa Heaven. The Sand Mountain is placed on a shelf that is put on a high place at the front part of the house. People bring flowers, small religious flags, small traditional flags and joss stick to stick on the Sand Mountain and they spray the perfume or sprinkle the liquid powder on it to make it fragrant. They put fruits such as mangoes, oranges or others in another plate and a pair of candles on shelf near the Sand Mountain. When the time is close to the New Year time, all members in the family gather in the house, light the candles and joss stick and sit to welcome the Goddess of New Year that is coming down from heaven to protect this world.
When the New Year arrives, the monks or the leaders of the lay people announce on the loudspeakers from pagodas to tell the people that the New Year time has arrived. They also beat the large drum and ring the large bell in the pagodas to welcoming the Goddess of New Year. At the same time the traditional music is played. All the people in the family sit in front of the shelf to pay respect to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (holy monks) and to pay respect to the Goddess to be blessed and get happiness in their lives. In that evening if we walk through the villages we will smell and see the smoke of joss sticks and see the lights of candles coming from the shelf of every house.
On the first day of the ceremony, the people with their families go to the pagodas bringing food, fruits, sweets and other things to offer to the monks in the morning, to be grateful to their own ancesters who have gone away, and dedicate the good deeds to the ancesters. All the pagodas are crowded because a lot of people come. At the same time they bring the sand with them to pile up the Sand Mountains in the pagoda. The Sand Mountains are ordained to be Chola Muny Chedey for the people worship during three days to get merit for their happiness. In the afternoon, young girls and boys together with adults play the popular games. There are many kinds of popular games to play. They usually go to pagodas to play these games . At night time, there are a lot of people in the pagodas
On the second day, some people go to the pagodas again to offer food , fruits and something else to the monks . The young people enjoy their time everywhere . The old men, ladies, grandparents, and parents stay at home and the children go to visit the other various pagodas and pleasant sites with brothers , sisters or friends . They also play the popular games and dance at night time .
On the third day, it's more crowded in the morning than on the first two days . Every family brings food, fruits and something else to pagodas to offer to the monks. At the same time they set the Sand Mountains to be normal piles of sand by religous rite, the sand piles are no longer Chola Muny Chedey. It is believed that if they don't set the Sand Mountains to be the normal piles of sand, when someone steps on them he or she will sin. In the afternoon they bring water mixed with fragrant things such as flowers, perfume and powder to the pagodas to get the monks bathed and to wash the Buddha's statues, called "Srang Toek Preah". This is the final day of the ceremony.
The next day is quiet in the pagodas, but the girls, boys and the adults still go somewhere to enjoy the time . They spend a week to continue their pleasure. When the ceremony ends , they start working again . The students go to school, workers go to their office and the farmers prepare for growing the crops such as rice. Normal lives start again after the ceremony.