Two Years in the Kingdom- Khmer New Year

April 21, 2019

Hello All, and thanks for following me. Todays topic is The Khmer New Year

Cambodians like to celebrate and the New Year is no exception. In fact, they celebrate it twice a year. The International New Year on January 1 and Khmer New Year for three days in April. The Khmer New Year has a mythical component. I was given the following in regards to the symbolism of the Khmer New Year. The celebration is connected to the signs of the zodiac. As the story goes there was a young man, Thoamabal, who was a layman in charge of religious ceremonies for everyone. One day a religious leader, Kabel Maha Prohm, decided to challenge Thiamabal with three riddles. If he could not answer them correctly, he would be beheaded. If he did then Kabel Maha Prohm would be beheaded. He had seven days to solve the three riddles. With the assistance of an eagle. Thoamabal was able to answer the riddles. Kabel, realizing his failure, called his seven daughters to share his fate. They are now seven angels that represent the seven days of the week and the New Year is named after the angel of the day on which the first day of the holiday falls.

The first day of the New Year celebration is called Maha Songkran or Great Almanac Day. This day marks the ending of the previous year and the beginning of a new year. People will dress nicely to light candles and incense sticks at shrines. Members of families pay homage and give thanks to Buddha for his teachings.

The second day, called Virak Wanabat or Worshiping Day, is the day that people contribute to charity by helping the poor and less fortunate. They will also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the Wat.

The third day is called Virak loeurng Sak or Promotion Day. This is the day that the statues of Buddha are cleaned. Bathing the statues of Buddha  is symbolic that all living things need water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity to life.

There is a custom that people erect mounds of sand at the Wat. There is a large mound in the center that represents the stupa at Tavatimsa. This is the stupa where the hair and diadem of Buddha is said to have been buried. The large center stupa is surrounded by 4 smaller ones which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. I participated in the ceremony at the Wat and was given incense sticks that were placed in each of these mounds. As you can see in the pictures, the Wat is decorated for the occasion with colored flags and banners.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.

This is a book review I had received from my one of my young adult novels “The Gift of Phineas Lake”. Kirkus is well known for their high standards in regards to book reviews since the 1930’s. Needless to say, I was very pleased with their review. Please take a moment and read this review. All ordering information is on this website.

A quick, compelling historical novel with a magical touch.

Rizzo uses historical figures and facts as the foundation for this suspenseful story within a story about the Underground Railroad and racial tension in antebellum industrial Pennsylvania. The book begins in 1897, when Jake and Gordy, two boys, get curious about an abandoned house in town—the former home of the titular Phineas Lake, who disappeared 50 years ago under mysterious circumstances. Though most adults discourage the boys from inquiring further, Gordy’s grandfather Cooper reveals that he was Phineas’ childhood best friend, and he’s just the first of many who begin to tell the boys about Phineas as they piece together the true story of what happened. Phineas had been blessed with a miraculous healing touch—able to cure any wound or illness with his hands alone—but he did his best to keep his gift a secret, since Rev. Davis, the village preacher, was quick to condemn such a thing as witchcraft. During the night,

however, Phineas would heal the freed slaves—the closest doctor refused to treat them—who worked at the iron furnace in town. After a nearby Underground Railroad conductor realized how Phineas’ skills could be used to help the exhausted and sick fugitives, Phineas (along with young Cooper) became a fugitive himself, only returning to town after a terrible storm brings on a deadly fever among the locals. The racist, magic-fearing Rev. Davis, however, hardly gives

him a warm homecoming; it isn’t long before he’s calling for Phineas to be killed. Rizzo’s story has plenty of momentum, and the boys’ eagerness to listen to each of Cooper’s tales works well, keeping the reader as enthralled as Jake and Gordy are. Though there’s not much historical nuance here, the book has an unassailable moral message that would be a great choice for YA readers with an interest in the history of American slavery.

A well-paced, engaging reimagining of antebellum Pennsylvania.



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