Saturday, 14 April 2012

Cambodia - Happy New Year!

As I'm blogging about various different places around the world, I often become aware of festivals and celebrations that I would never have otherwise heard about.  Right now it's New Year in Cambodia or, in Khmer language បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី - Chaul Chnam Thmey.  Khmer New Year is celebrated over three days, from the 13th to the 15th of April and marks the end of the harvesting season.  This year's Chaul Chnam Thmey marks the beginning of 2556 BE - ie. according to the Buddhist calendar (Buddhist Era). 

April 14th 2012 - Virak Wanabat
Monks giving alms by Pigalle
I'm sure there will be lots of ceremonies and temple visits in Cambodia today, which is the second day of this celebration, called Virak Wanabat - it focuses on charity and giving to the poor, I guess today is the equivalent of our 'Boxing Day'.  And not just in Cambodia either.  Cambodians all over the world will be celebrating New Year this weekend.

Songkran and Pathandu

Chaul Chnam Thmey coincides with other Buddhist New Year's, like Songkran in Thailand and Laos, a time to get splashed with flour and water, if I remember my Songkran in Thailand correctly!  It's also New Year in Sri Lanka and in the Tamil communities of southern India, Malaysia and elsewhere, where it's known as Puthandu

So when is New Year again?

Postcard seller by Pigalle
Until I lived in places like Uzbekistan and Thailand, I didn't realise that there were other dates for New Year (apart from Chinese New Year).  In Central Asia and Iran, New Year is celebrated as Navrus (or Nowrus), normally around the end of March.  The date is based on the lunar calendar, which changes from year to year, although most countries have settled on one date (22 March) as the date for New Year.

My Kalmyk partner celebrates New Year (Zul) on the 20th of December!  The Celtic New Year traditionally began during Samhain (seed-fall, or the end of the harvest).  This festival survives in our modern-day Hallowe'en, which falls on the last day in October, according to the Gregorian (Western) calendar.  It seems strange to have a New Year beginning at the start of winter, but I guess every New Year marks the end of an old one and, as with Chaul Chnam Thmey, Celtic New Year really marks the end of the productive agricultural season (before the rains come, or in Europe - winter). 

New Years around the world

Living in climatically different parts of the world, it would make sense that New Year starts at different times in different places, as it usually heralds the end or beginning of a productive agricultural season. 

It surprised me to learn that New Year has only been celebrated on the 1st of January in England since 1751!  Previous to that, New Year in England began on Lady's Day, which is the 25th of March.  I guess the UK retains a remnant of this older tradition, as the UK 'Financial year' begins on the 1st of April.

Our modern New Year most likely has its origins in the Yuletide of Nordic and Germanic traditions, which is still celebrated as Christmas, but probably got moved to the 1st of January as a more convenient 'starting' date and to differentiate Christmas, which they were keen to portray as a 'Christian' holiday tied to the birth of Christ?

Psah Thom Thmei by Pigalle
Orthodox countries like Russia, still have a different New Year's date (called Old New Year!) on January 14th - so they get to celebrate New Year twice! 

In the Judaic tradition, New Year is celebrated during Rosh Hashanah which will be in September this year. 

I guess the Hindu 'festival of lights' Diwali is a kind of New Year celebration - it also falls in the autumn or early (European) winter - this year Diwali will be in November. 

Enkutatash - the Coptic (Ethiopian) New Year falls on the 11th of September.

The Islamic New Year starts on the first day of Muharram which will be the 15th of November this year. 

Seollal - the Korean New Year, started on the 23rd of January this year, a date that is very close to the Chinese New Year.  The Vietnamese New Year Tết also coincides with Chinese New Year. 

The Balinese celebrated their New Year Nyepi on the 23rd of March this year.  Nyepi is an interesting one, as it means the 'day of silence' - when everyone in Bali stays indoors in the hope that visiting demons will think the island is uninhabited and leave them alone for another year!  Nyepi also applies to visiting tourists and I can't imagine what it's like to stay indoors and remain silent during that day - it sounds wonderful!

I guess at any time of the year, somewhere in the world, people will be celebrating the end of harvest or cheering themselves up in the middle of a dull winter or rainy season!  So wherever you're reading this and whatever time of the year it is - Happy New Year!

Image credits:

For this blog post I wanted to highlight the photography of Flickr member Pigalle - who has amazing collections of images from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere.  You can see more on Pigalle's photostream - all images for this blog post have been taken from the set - A Brief Introduction to Cambodia - thanks to Pigalle for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons License. 
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