Monday, 7th January 2013 – Victory Over Genocide Day
This day commemorates the end of the Khmer Rouge regime after their defeat by the Vietnamese and its Cambodian allies in 1979. Members of the Cambodian Peoples Party and civil servants participate in well organised rallies during the day to celebrate the progress in nation rebuilding and there is a firework display in the evening. It is also a day when Cambodians remember those they lost during the Khmer Rouge period.
Monday 25th February 2013 – Meak Bochea
Meak Bochea falls on the day of the full moon in the third lunar month of the Buddhist calendar and commemorates a spontaneous gathering of monks to listen to the Buddha’s preaching. Buddhist families make food and money offerings to Buddha at their household shrines or the local pagoda.
Friday, 8th March 2013 – International Woman’s Day
International Women’s Day is celebrated in Phnom Penh with exhibitions showcasing a multitude of goods produced by Cambodian women, including handicrafts, garments and organic produce. As women represented two-third’s of the population following the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which resulted in millions raising and supporting their families alone, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was one of the first international agreements signed by the post-election government in 1993. Two months latter the Cambodian Secretariat for Women’s Affairs was formed to protect the rights of women and improve their living standards.
Sunday, 14th to Tuesday, 16th April 2013 – Chaul Chnam Thmey
Cambodian New Year, or Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer meaning Entering the New Year, is considered to be the most important festival on the Cambodian calendar. Commonly it is a time families from the provinces to come to Phnom Penh to visit family members who are working in the city. The festivities last three days. It begin on April 13th, New Years Eve, when most businesses close and homes are decorated with flowers, balloons, gold, silver, red, white and green streamers. Homes and Buddhist shrines are cleaned to welcome the New Angel (Guardian of the New Year) and households make ritual offerings to Buddha. On New Year’s Day morning there is are religious ceremonies after which people feed the pagodas’ monks. People traditionally douse each other with water (that is often coloured to symbolise a colourful future) as a blessing. Recently, local residents began to copy Thailand’s Song Kran festival where throwing water at all and sundry has degenerated in something of an ordeal but several years ago the government thankfully banned public water dousing due to a sharp rise in associated accidents, often involving passing traffic. That said, you can still expect to get wet in certain areas of the city, so don’t wear your best clothes! Phnom Penh’s Wat Phnom is also packed with visitors during the festivities, as people go there to play traditional Khmer games.
Wednesday, 1st May 2013 – World Labour Day
Cambodia recognises World Labour Day as an annual holiday. It is meant to celebrate the economic and social achievements of the nations workers, many of whom, such as those in the garment industry, often participate in marches to appeal to the government to increase minimum wages and improve their working conditions.
Thursday, 9th May May 2013 – The Royal Ploughing Ceremony
Known as Pithi Chrat Preah Neangkol in Khmer, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is a public holiday which corresponds to the start of the planting season. As in many countries in the region, there is a strong belief here that the oxen in the ceremony help determine the fate of the agricultural harvest. Each year a ceremony takes place in the park next to the Royal Palace, in which the King plays a key role. The oxen are given a selection of foods and beverages to consume and the royal soothsayers then interpret the results. Many of those attending the event wear brightly coloured traditional Khmer costumes. The ceremony is televised throughout Cambodia, reflecting its importance to the population.
Saturday, 5th May 2013 – Visaka Bochea
Visaka Bochea, which falls on the full moon day of the Buddhist calendar’s sixth lunar month, commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. As well as making offerings within their own homes, people visit local pagodas to pray and show their respect to Buddha.
Monday, 13th to Tuesday, 15th May 2013 – His Majesty the King’s Birthday
This three day national holiday commemorates the birthday of King Norodom Sihamoni on May 14th, 1953. The current King was crowned in 2004 after the abdication of his father, Norodom Sihanouk. An impressive fireworks display is organised in front of the Royal Palace on the river side. On the evening of the 14th, locals often have parties or attend those of their friends and family.
Tuesday, 18th June 2013 – Her Majesty the Queen Mother’s Birthday
This one-day national holiday commemorates the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk’s birthday. As with the King’s birthday, there is a firework display in front of the Royal Palace. However, in terms of its affect on the usual goings-on in Phnom Penh, this is a relatively low key event.
Monday, 23rd to Wednesday, 25th September 2013 – Pchum Ben
Pchum Ben, translated as Ancestor’s Day in English, is a highly significant religious holiday for Cambodia’s predominantly Buddhist population. During the three-day national holiday, Cambodia Buddhists pay their respect to deceased relatives by cooking meals for monks and making offerings to the “ghosts” of deceased relatives so that they don’t haunt the living (Cambodians are obsessed with a fear of ghosts). In a reverse of people visiting the city during Chaul Chnam Thmey, most locals leave town to visit their family and local pagodas in the provinces during Pchum Ben. As a result, most businesses in Phnom Penh close, traffic on the streets is minimal and the city becomes a sanctuary for those who enjoy a little peace and quiet! Many restaurants close as it becomes difficult to retain staff during the festivities but the few that remain open generally do a roaring trade.
Tuesday, 24th September 2013 – Constitution Day
Constitution Day is celebrated as an annual holiday in Cambodia. It marks the anniversary of the signing of Cambodia’s new constitution in 1993 by King Sihanouk. The signing came two years after Cambodia’s feuding political parties signed the Paris Peace Accords and agreed in principle to free and fair elections. Shortly after signing the Constitution Sihanouk was reinstated as King, having abdicated in 1955 so as to enter a career in politics. He remained king until 2004, when he abdicated in favour of his son, King Sihamoni Norodom. The role of king here is now largely ceremonial but carriers great cultural importance for Cambodians.
Saturday, 24th October 2013 – Coronation Day
Coronation Day commemorates the anniversary of the coronation of current King Norodom Sihamoni and is a relatively minor national holiday.
Thursday, 31st October 2013 – His Majesty, the King Father’s Birthday
This day commemorates HM the King Father Norodom Sihanouks’s Birthday. The King Father was indisputably Cambodia’s most important modern monarch. Traditionally on his birthday, a fireworks display is held on the banks of the Tonle Sap River in front of the Royal Palace, although how his recent death with effect this year’s event is difficult to predict.
Saturday, 9th November 2013 – Independence Day
Independence Day celebrates Cambodia’s independence in 1953 from France following King Sihanouk’s successful crusade to gather international support for his country’s break from its colonial rulers. National flags are hung from shop fronts as well as buntings and banners that decorate the boulevards to highlight this achievements. Celebrations are focused around the Independence Monument where the current King lights a torch within the memorial symbolising the nation’s pride that remains lit for three days. Following this, the King addresses tens of thousands of people including senior government leaders, civil servants, members of the armed forces, diplomats and students, many of whom will be seen holding large print photos of the King and the King Father. In the evening there is a fireworks display in front of the Royal Palace.
Sunday, 10th to Tuesday 12st November 2013 – Bon Om Tuk
Bon Om Tuk (The Water Festival), has always been Cambodia’s biggest holiday celebrating the conclusion of the rainy season. Businesses usually close for three days and, until recently Phnom Penh swelled to almost bursting point with millions of visitors from the countryside who come to watch the dragon boat races on the waterfront by the quay. These races are timed to coincide with the water in the river resuming its normal direction after reversing course during the rainy season – that helped swell the size of the Tonle Sap Lake up to five times. However, the boat races have been cancelled for the last two years and it is unclear what will happen this year.
Tuesday, 10th December 2013 – Human Rights Day
December 10 Human Rights Day is a United Nations-inspired holiday commemorating the General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In line with the status of human rights within Cambodia, this is treated as a minor national holiday.
Photographs by Paul Carson