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Feature: Traders and Citizens Are Busy Shopping for Goods in Preparation for the Traditional Khmer New Year

PHNOM PENH: Traders and citizens in Phnom Penh are busy selling and shopping, mostly gifts and home decor to prepare for the angels of the traditional Khmer New Year, which is set to begin on Thursday, 14 April.

The Khmer New Year is a three-day national public holiday that Cambodians celebrate throughout the country. Every year, Khmer New Year usually falls on the 13th or 14th of April, coinciding with the traditional solar new year in several other countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. The first day of the new year is called ‘Maha Sankran’, the second day is ‘Vireak Vanbat’ and the third day is ‘Vireak Lerng Sak’.

Before the Khmer New Year, all Cambodians prepare by cleaning their houses and putting up decorations such as star lanterns, which are believed to bring good luck and fortune. Families will also prepare offerings of flowers and food to give to the monks while visiting pagoda.

This year’s Maha Sangkran, in the year of Karl Chatva Sak, Buddhist era 2566, will take place on Thursday, on the 13th day of the lunar month, which is the 14th of April 2022, precisely at 10:00 AM. The New Year Goddess, Keriney Devi, the fifth daughter of Kabil Mahaprabhu, adorned with green garlands covered in pearls, amulets and emeralds, is said to arrive this year holding a gun in her left hand, and an ankus in her right, while mounted upon the back of an elephant, Kochasar, as her vehicle. This year, she will also be eating beans and sesame seeds, so those are the main offerings.

In the markets in Phnom Penh, there are vendors selling star lanterns, Bay Sey (banana leaf stem or green banana fitted with a stand and decorated with flowers, betel leaves, and areca nuts), as well as flowers as decorations. This year, sesame seeds are also being widely sold for the arrival of the New Year angel.

A trader selling sesame seeds at Orussey Market in Phnom Penh, Tang Kimmey, said that this year she was able to sell a lot more than last year. She said she has sold sesame seeds the most, but is also separately selling corn kernels, grains, and spices because people buy those items for cooking on New Year's Day. She said she has sold more than 100 kilograms of whole grains a day, including sesame seeds and beans. Regarding the pricing of these goods, she said she has not increased any prices compared to any normal day.

She said, "Customers come to buy a variety of grains, but the best-selling are green beans, which some Cambodians call rice beans. In other words, because the Khmer New Year is approaching, the demand for beans has increased more than usual because it has been said that the deity this year will eat beans and sesame seeds, so people need to buy sesame seeds for the New Year deity. In regard to pricing, the price of each item is different, following the type of grain, but the price is the same as usual, there is no sign that when the festival is close, the pricing increases. In other words, I sell all my goods at the normal rate.”

Another vendor selling star lanterns, Ou Navi, observed that more customers came to buy her lanterns this year than last year as the government reopened celebrations. She said that she sells many lanterns a day, with each lantern costing from 8,000 to 30,000 riel, or roughly US $2 to $7.5 dollars, depending on the style and size. She resells all the lanterns from the makers in Phnom Penh, and said that all these lanterns were made in February to meet the needs of customers. She explained that buy lanterns to decorate their houses because they think that lanterns with lights will bring glory and good fortune to their families.

She said, "[The number of lanterns I’ve sold] cannot be fully counted, because I have been selling a lot this year. Two years ago, the country was closed, new year celebrations were not allowed, until this year, now the country has reopened, so we can finally sell. We make these lanterns in Phnom Penh ourselves. They have been made for a long time, since after the Chinese New Year. For this silk lantern, the price is 20,000 riel (roughly $5), the price depends on if the lantern is small or big. Before, we sold the plastic type, but now we sell silk lanterns. [...] Customers buy lanterns and display them in front of their house to welcome the New Year angels, make their homes shine bright and look more glorious.”

Another vendor selling decorative materials, Hak Norin, said that this year, more customers came to buy items from his shop than usual. He sells items such as flower baskets and pots, which are traditional Khmer items that people buy to put around their homes, businesses and institutions as decorations, or to be able to play various traditional games.

He said, "In connection with the traditional Khmer New Year, the products that I sell include round and square baskets, and also Angrot, Chhneang and Trou, which are all Khmer products used for decorating during the New Year. For about 10 days, most of the customers we have had are from some kind of companies, factories or enterprises. They buy these items for decorating their workplace, and there are also other features that they buy, such as pots, and rope, so that they can play traditional tug of war.”

Meanwhile, shopping in Orussey Market is Koeun Lang and her husband Tep Buth, who said that they bought flowers, stars lanterns, gifts and food to prepare for the upcoming Khmer New Year in their hometown of Aoral district, Kampong Speu province.

Koeun Lang said that this year, she observed that more people came to shop than in the previous years due to the government's announcement that Khmer New Year celebrations were happening this year, and that people could hold regular gatherings as long as they follow the set health rules.

She said, "We haven’t celebrated [Khmer New Year] for about two years now, and this year, there are so many people who are acting like they have never celebrated the New Year before, because they used to celebrate it every year but since the Covid-19 outbreak, we haven’t been able to have fun until the Prime Minister announced the reopening of Cambodia, so we can have fun now. But no matter where we go, it is important not to forget wearing face masks and regularly sanitizing our hands."

Her husband, Tep Buth, added, "We are having fun as usual, because there are not any problems. After not being able to celebrate for two years, when things reopened, we were very happy like everyone else. For the Cambodian people, I see that they are ready to prepare celebrations for the new year. It looks like everyone is happy everywhere, as if they don't care anymore."

On 7 March 2022, Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed that the Khmer New Year in 2022 would be celebrated as usual. He said that, "If we did not get vaccinated, then this year, maybe we would not have had the chance to celebrate the new year. Not only would we not get to celebrate the new year, but there would have been more deaths. But this year, during the new year, we will celebrate.”

The 2022 Khmer New Year will take place from 14 to 16 April.

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