Cambodia’s 9 Most Important Public Holiday Celebrations

Cambodia's Angkor Wat Temple

The people of most countries in the world celebrate special holidays to commemorate historical events. This article looks at 9 important Cambodian holidays.

One way to come to a general understanding of the historical background of a country is to take a look at the holidays they celebrate. This article highlights the nine most important holidays celebrated by the Khmer people in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Main Holidays

According to information provided by Tourism of Cambodia, the Khmer citizens of Cambodia celebrate nine important holidays to commemorate special historical events. Those holidays include

  • 7 Makara (the 7th of January);
  • International Day of Women;
  • Khmer New Year;
  • Buddha’s Birthday;
  • The King’s Plowing Ceremony;
  • The Ancestor’s Day Festival (or Bun Pchum Ben in the Khmer language);
  • The Father King’s Birthday for former King Norodom Sihanouk;
  • National Independence Day and
  • Bun Om Touk (or the Water Festival)

Cambodia’s 7 Makara Holiday

As” 7 Makara” is the Khmer language word for January 7th, this Cambodian holiday takes place each year on the 7th of January and is also called Victory over Genocide Day. The holiday celebrates commemoration of the defeat of the Khmer Rouge rebels by Vietnamese forces in 1979. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot practiced a reign of terror on the Cambodian people which included the killing of 1.5 to three million fellow Cambodian citizens.

International Women’s Day Holiday

International Women’s Day is a second holiday celebrated in Cambodia. On this special day, women are released from their common duties in the home or at work to go out and have fun.

Cambodia’s Khmer New Year or Chol Chnum Thmey

Khmer New Year (or Chol Chnum Thmey in the Khmer language) is the first of Cambodia’s three major holiday festivals. Khmer New Year is a three-day affair beginning April 13th or 14th. During this festival, all Cambodians go back to their home villages to welcome the New Year angel with their immediate and extended families. They also give alms to the poor and play traditional games associated with the festival. Commonly employers will give each employee a bonus equal to one month’s wages.

Visaka Bochea

Another public holiday normally celebrated in late-April or early-May is Visaka Bochea. The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism and Visaka Bochea is celebrated in commemoration of day of Buddha’s birth.

The King’s Ploughing Ceremony

The King’s Ploughing ceremony which coincides with the beginning of planting season is another Cambodian public holiday event the takes place in mid-May. Each year crowds gather at the lawn adjacent to the royal palace to watch the reigning king or one of his special envoys preside over this event. In order to determine which crop will grow the most abundantly in the coming season, the king places three agricultural commodities such as rice, corn and green beans in front of cattle to see which commodity will produce most. As rice farmers, most Cambodians hope the cow picks the rice.

Cambodia’s Ancestor’s Day Festival or Bun Pchum Ben

Cambodia’s second major holiday festival is the Ancestor’s Day Festival or Bun Pchum Ben. According to Travel, Bun Pchum Ben is a fifteen day memorial festival when the Khmer people pay homage to their deceased ancestors. The annual date of this festival is determined according to the lunar calendar and usually takes place sometime between mid-September and early-October. According to Khmer tradition, during those fifteen days deceased ancestors are released from purgatory to roam their former villages for food provided by their living descendants. If the people do not participate in the ritual, they fear retribution from those ancestors.

The Father King’s Birthday

The Father King’s birthday celebrates the birthday of the former King, Father King Norodom Sihanouk. Although he abdicated his royal throne, the former king Norodom Sihanouk is still very popular with the Khmer people, more so than the King Sihamoni who ascended to the throne when his father stepped down. Father King Norodom Sihanouk ruled over Cambodia as head of state in various capacities from 1939 to 2005.

Cambodia’s National Independence Day

Cambodia’s National Independence Day held annually on November 9th celebrates Cambodia’s independence from French rule. From the mid-18th century through the end of World War II, France dominated the Indochine area in Southeast Asia including Cambodia and Vietnam. King Sihanouk negotiated Cambodia’s independence in 1953.

Cambodia’s Bun Om Touk – Water Festival

Cambodia’s Bun Om Touk is the annual Water Festival. The Water Festival marks the end of the rainy season and the reversal of the Tonle Sap River near Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh. Like Bun Pchum Ben, the dates of this festival celebration are determined by the lunar calendar. Unlike the two other major Cambodian holidays, the people do not return to their home villages to celebrate this occasion. Instead, many Cambodian people go to Phnom Penh for traditional dragon boat races, a lighted boat parade, and a wild street party of fun near the river shoreline.