Khmer New Year

This writing would not be sufficient without a discussion of the Khmer New Year since New Year is related to historical aspect of Khmer culture and its calendar system. Khmer New Year is the largest and most festive celebration in Cambodia.

Background

Before the end of the Angkor era, Khmer celebrated New Year according to the lunisolar calendar. According to Zhou Daguan, the Chinese traveler to Cambodia in the 13th century, Khmer New Year occurred on the tenth month on the Chinese calendar. [SIN03] By running a calculation on Khmer calendar for 1295 AD, the year that Zhou Daguan recorded the event, the tenth month on the Chinese calendar is the first month on Khmer calendar. The first month of the Khmer calendar is Mekasay (មិគសិរ) which falls around January or December in the Gregorian calendar. This is the New Year date which is not widely celebrated today.

After the Angkorian period, Cambodians make use of both lunisolar and solar calendar. With the adoption of the new calendar system, Khmer changed its celebration as well. Many suggest that the decision to change the New Year date to April is due to civil reasons. In April, the farmers are done from their farming tasks and thus have time to rest and celebrate the New Year.

The New Year date was determined based on a type of solar calendar. [KHM97] If the New Year date is calculated using the Ayun Songkran, a calculation based on the lunar calendar, it is not consistent with the lunisolar calendar, but it is said that it should fall between the fourth day of the fifth and sixth month (4 Keit of Chaet and 4 Keit of Vesak).[KHM97] For New Year calculation using the Samagn Songkran--a calculation based on solar calendar, the date typically falls on April 13 or 14 on the Gregorian calendar in recent years. This is the widely celebrated and official New Year for Cambodians today.

Usually in ancient times, the celebration would last for a month; half of a month is celebrated before the New Year date and the other half after the New Year date. [SIN03] Today the celebration lasts about the duration of the New Year, which is 3 to 4 days.

The Calendar Aspect

According to the article from Sinhour Torn [SIN03], Cambodians celebrate two different New Years. The first New Year that is not widely celebrated is on the first day of Chaet (១កើត ខែ ចេត្រ) of the Khmer lunisolar calendar. On that day, the animal year is changed to a new animal.

On the second New Year which is one of the biggest celebrations for Cambodians, it typically starts either on April 13 or April 14 of the Gregorian calendar. It lasts for three to four days depending on the year. The first day is called Songkran. The second is called Vonabot. The third day of the four-day New Year is also called Vonabot. The last day is called Laeung Sak. Laeung Sak day is the day to increment Sak.

There are different opinions on exactly when to increment the Buddhist era. Some people choose to increment the Buddhist era in January for convenience, some do it in at the start of the New Year (April 13 or 14), and others suggest doing it on Visak Bojea day. An article from the University of Phnom Penh suggests that the Buddhist era is incremented on Learng Sak day, the last day of the New Year.

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