It was a few days after an unusual snowstorm in Spring when Cambodians in Wisconsin went in full force to the Buddhist Temple in Oregon to celebrate New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer language. Everyone was relieved and happy to see the clear blue sky and warm weather that allowed the community members to weat their beautiful traditional Khmer clothes.
      Cambodian New Year is held in April because back home, it is right after the busiest season for farmers when they harvest their crops. It has become a festival when everyone can rest and have fun.
      I was told that Khmer/Cambodian New Year is celebrated for three days, and the locals started on April 13 with mostly spiritual rites. The first day, called Moha Songkran, marked the end of the year, and they welcomed the new year by thoroughly cleaning and      decorating their homes and preparing food to be blessed by the monks at the Oregon Temple. The day was also for meditation and chanting -- a time to connect to the spirit world and reflect on one's life the past year. Just outside the Temple was built a small altar where fruits and incense were aplenty for people's offering. The second day, April 14, was the festival proper called
Vanabat. Hundreds of Khmer and friends were in line to share ethnic Cambodian food and thereafter were entertained by Khmer classical and traditional dances, as well as traditional and modern music. There were games for boys and children, and gift-giving to parents and elders. There      was a community dance were everyone's hands seemed to float then sway gracefully with every note of a song. The third day, Tngai Laeung Saka, was dedicated to cleansing Buddha images and bathing the elders, with the "belief that water brings forth life and must therefore be associated with loved ones," according to one attendee.
      The commitment of the Khmer community to maintain their cultural traditions and share them with others in Wisconsin is apparent in this most important yearly event that is celebrated with every family contributing anything, no matter how small, that they could share with others.
Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
Asian Wisconzine
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State of Wisconsin (U.S. SBA)
www.asianwisconzine.com
Cambodian New Year
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