Most Cambodian festivals are related to Buddhism or to the
agricultural seasons. There are two New Year's celebrations. Each one marks the
beginning of the year for a different group of the population. The first one is
held in late January or early February depending on the lunar calendar. It is
referred to as Tet. This New Year is observed by the Chinese and the
Vietnamese who live in Cambodia. Tet is celebrated with a parade. People
also visit each other and sometimes give gifts of toys and new clothes to
On April 13 Cambodians celebrate their New Year. It marks the end of the harvest season. This festival lasts for three days. People visit their families during this time. Food is offered to the village wat. The young girls of the village perform dances.
The Buddha is celebrated on May 15, in a feast called
Vesaka Bochea. This day marks the birth and death of the Buddha, and
the day of his enlightenment. People bring food to the village wat and
offer flowers. They ask for good fortune for the coming year.
The three-day festival of the reversal of the waters is celebrated in October or November depending on when the waters of the Tonle Sap reverse and flow back into the Mekong River. Boat races are held at the capital, Phnom Penh. Each village entering the race builds a dugout canoe with a prow and stern that curve upward. The prow is painted with a large eye like those that decorated the war vessels of ancient times.
A boat can have as many as 40 rowers. Pairs of boats race
each other for the first two days. A race including all the canoes takes place
on the last day of the festival. The purpose of this race is to make the god of
the river happy so that there will be many fish and the rice crop will be
Each year on May 20 a "Day of Hatred" is held to remember the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1978. This regime destroyed much of Cambodia's cultural and intellectual life.