It was exactly one year ago, I packed my bags and left San Francisco for Siem Reap, Cambodia to teach English for a month. On my first day, it was the start of the Cambodian New Year. Some businesses were closed and school was out for a week. As a Chinese who celebrated the Chinese New Year every year, the Cambodian New Year was something new to me.
Cambodian or Khmer New Year is celebrated from April 13th – 15th of every year and generally follows at the end of a rice harvest season. A majority of Cambodians are rice farmers and they work particularly hard during the rice season to produce their crops for the year. The 3-day celebration is a way for families to come together with relatives and celebrate the bounty of the harvest before the start of the rain season. When I was there, many families were busy crowding the fresh markets, buying ingredients to prepare meals at home. Children and adults were dressed up in their elegant Cambodian clothing to celebrate the new year. Younger generations went to temples and danced traditional Cambodian dances & hip hop as a way to celebrate.
This past weekend, I attended the Khmer New Year celebration at the local Cambodian temple in Oakland with my friend, Peter, whose family comes from Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. For U.S. based Cambodians, the tradition is to visit temples during the new year and offer prayers and thanks for a good year past and a good year ahead.
Of course, it’s not complete without traditional Khmer food. The temple’s tradition is for every family to cook a few dishes and they lay it out on the tables for everyone to share. The monks of the temple are offered the food first and then everyone else can join afterwards, as a respect to the monks. The food included mango sticky rice, curries, salty fish wrapped with cabbage, papaya salads, and green mango with chili and many more. We all ate together and I was very grateful that they included me in the family celebration.
Happy Khmer new year everyone!