I was lucky enough to experience the beautiful Cambodia and Khmer culture on my first trip to the country last year. One of the great things about the multicultural Melbourne though, is that you can experience many great traditions, foods, dancing and other activities in free cultural festivals right on your doorstep.
The Khmer New Years Festival is one of these events. Held over three days in April. The festival, held at Wat Buddharangsi and Wat Khmer in Springvale South, will include performances by Cambodian singers, traditional Khmer foods, as well as traditional Cambodian Buddist cultural rituals and celebrations. Wat Buddharangsi and Wat Khmer are within walking distance so you can attend both on the same day.
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The Khmer New Years Festival begins at the end of the harvesting season and traditionally lasts three days. This is the time for the farmers to enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins.
The first day of the New Year celebration is called Maha Songkran, this is the day to celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one. Traditionally on this day people dress up, light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines.
The second day of the celebration is Virak Wanabat. On this day people contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families.
The third and final day of the New Year celebrations is called T'ngai Leang Saka.On this day, Cambodian buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. This is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life.
The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is a "kralan": a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted. Having experienced Cambodian food both there, and here in Melbourne, I can highly recommend trying it.
So, if you want to experience some different New Years festivities long after we officially welcomed in 2013, or just investigate some unique cultural celebrations without the overseas trip, come along to the free Khmer New Years Festival, 12th-14th April.