CHOL-CHNAM-THMAY TET OF KHMER PEOPLE
Along with Ooc-om-boc and Sence Dolta festivals, Chol-Chnam-Thmay is one of the three most important festivals of Khmer people in the South in general and Soc Trang in particular. Chol-Chnam-Thmay takes place in mid-April every year. On these days, Khmer people everywhere will celebrate the new year together, which is also an opportunity for them to remember their ancestors and the buddha who protected them during the past year.
Chol-Chnam-Thmay is usually celebrated around the beginning of the Chet month of the Khmer buddhist calendar (mid-April of the solar calendar). It lasts for 3 days and 4 days in the leap year. Each new year’s day has a different name.
- Day one (Chaul Sang Kran Thmei); called “Maha Sang Kran” – the day of picking Maha Sang Kran up. After going 3 times around the main hall, the monks began to perform the ritual to pray for peace for people. On the new year’s first day, Maha Sang Kran procession is the most important rite.
Those who do not make it at the temple in time to process Maha Sang Kran can then come to listen to the monk preaching the dharma and making new year offerings with everyone. The Khmer call these men Acha. Acha is someone who deeply knows history, many buddhist scriptures and is trusted by the villagers.
- The second day (Wonbât): called "Pun Phrom Khoach" - the day of rice offering and sand mountain construction. If it is a leap year, there are 2 wonbât days. Just like the first day, Khmer people continue to bring rice to the monks. Also on this day, Khmer people also perform the Thanh Minh (Qing Ming) worship ceremony to remember those who have passed away.
According to the Khmer concept, the sand mountain represents the universe and the ninth mountain in the middle is the center of the world. Therefore, the higher the sand mountain, the more blessings will be accumulated and the evil will be warded off.
- The third day (Long Sak): is the day of bathing the buddha statue and bathing the elderly monks. The monks will be the first one who perform the ritual of bathing the buddha image. While bathing the buddha they will chant sutras to show respect and remembrance of the buddha. People will bathe the buddha statues placed outside. They believe that this ritual not only shows gratitude to the buddha, but it will help wash away the dirt and bad luck of the old year to enter the new year with a completely new body.
Just like the traditional Tet holiday of the Vietnamese people, on these days, every Khmer family cleans, redecorates the house, prepares enough food and drinks, wears new clothes, etc. They will also focus on resting, visiting and wishing each other in new year's eve.
Time goes by, the Khmer new year custom will have some changes to suit modern life, but the main rites are still preserved by ethnic people. Thereby showing that the belief in the buddha, the god, along with the kindness and sincerity of the Khmer people for generations is still intact. Coming to Soc Trang on the days of Chol-Chnam-Thmay, visitors will feel more deeply about the festival and the cultural identity of the people here.