Subtopic: Cambodian New Year

Grade Level: 2nd-4th

Author: Kathy Moss



Cambodia is a country located in South-East Asia. On some maps it is referred to by its former name, Kampuchea (kam-poo-CHEE-uh). It is mostly flat land with a few mountains on the southern border. Some of the countries surrounding Cambodia are Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh (puh NAWM pen). Khmer (cah'MY) is the official language. The population is 7.1 million people.

Cambodia has undergone conflict and invasions for several years. Because of these wars, hundreds of thousands of educated people have fled the country to find safety. With the loss of so many skilled workers the country has been weakened. As a result of this loss Cambodia is very poor.

Agriculture is a way of life in Cambodia. There are many small farms and plantations. Many farmers harvest rice. Cambodia is also one of the major world producers and exporters of rubber.

The people of Cambodia are concerned about the well-being of others. Helping one another is a custom of the South-East Asian people.

The main religion of Cambodia is Buddhism. With this religion comes the belief that one can be freed from the pain and suffering of the world through righteous thinking and living. Buddhists believe that a person's life in the hereafter will be better if they fill their present life with good conduct and good deeds. The Buddhist monks teach them how to live a moral life and aid them in understanding the teachings of Buddha. Cambodian families often go to the Temple to pray to Buddha. Many families have small altars in their homes where they can pray to Buddha and their ancestors.

The Cambodian New Year is one of the major celebrations in the Cambodian culture. It is based on the lunar calendar, and is celebrated in mid-April, which is the first month of the year in Cambodia. This time of year also represents the end of the harvest. It is a time for farmers to enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. An astrologer determines the exact date for which the celebration will be held.

The celebration lasts for three days. During this time several people take work off to commemorate the new year. They spend time visiting family and friends, as well as the Buddhist pagodas. The Buddhist religion plays a major role in many of the celebrations activates.

The New Year is a celebration that is prepared for long in advance. Part of this preparation includes the cleaning of their homes. The people clean them thoroughly to rid them of any unclean spirits. They also buy silk to make new clothes. The men and boys wear black pants with white rounded-neck shirts, while the women and girls wear skirts with colorful, decorated robes. The clean house and new clothes represent a new beginning.

The celebration lasts for three days. Each day has a name and activities attached. Day one is called Maha Sahgkrant (MOH-hah sahng KRAHN). It is the entry into the New Year, signaled by the drum or bell of the Buddhist temple. With the sounding, it is believed that the New Angel arrives. Throughout the day the people participate in ceremonies and games. One of these activities is the building of a small sand "mountain." Each piece of sand that is added is believed to produce more health and happiness in their lives. The people bring food for the monks and pray with them. There is a feast of traditional foods such as peanut curries, noodles and tree mushrooms.

The second day is Vana Bat. It is a time for more praying. This day is a day to show consideration to elders. Parents, grandparents, and teachers are given gifts from children out of respect. It is also a time to serve. Cambodians offer charity to the less fortunate, participate in service activities, and forgive others of misdeeds that may have been done to them. The people continue to add to their sand mountain.

The final day is called Loeung Sack. On this day the monks bless the sand mountain. This is also the day for the cleansing of the Buddha statues. The people wash their statues with perfumed water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring good luck, long life and happiness. The bathing also symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfall for the rice harvest.

The Cambodian New Year is observed in other countries, including the United States, by many Cambodian immigrants. In the United States the celebration only lasts for two days. Many of the same ceremonies and activities are planned for and participated in. This allows for those who fled their country to remember their culture and share it with their children.



Ainsley, W. F., Elbow, G. S., (1995). World Geography: People in Time and Place. Morristown, NJ, Needham, MA: Silver Burdett Ginn

Banks, J. A., Craven, J., (1993). The World Around Us: World Regions. New York: Macmillan/McGraw School Publishing Co.

Chiemruom, S. , (1992). Dara's Cambodian New Year: Teachers Guide. Boston, The Children's Museum.



*Students will compare and contrast the New Year celebration in Cambodia to the celebration in the United States.

*Students will cooperate in cleaning the classroom in preparation for the celebration of the Cambodian New Year.

*Students will write the different activities that take place on each of the three days of the Cambodian New Year celebration.

*Students will show respect to an elder by writing and delivering a card to them.

*Students will participate in class discussions by sharing their thoughts and feelings about issues pertaining to the Cambodian New Year.

*Students will mathematically determine the amount of beans added to the "mountain" during the three day celebration.


Time Allotment:

Day 1- Introduction and preparation activity (2 class periods)

Day 2- Maha Sahgkrant: 1st day of the Cambodian New Year (1 class period)

Day 3-Vana Bat: 2nd day of the Cambodian New Year (2 class periods)

Day 4- Loeung Sack: 3rd day of the Cambodian New Year (1 class period)


*If possible, teach this unit in April (preferably during or around the time of the actual celebration of the Cambodian New Year).


Resources Needed:

-world map/globe

-graphic organizer (see appendix)

-cleaning supplies

-dry beans or macaroni (to build a mountain)

-construction paper and markers for making a card



A. Brainstorm (Day 1): Have the words "Happy New Year" written on the board. Ask the students to tell you what they think about when they read those words. Guide the students into a discussion about the New Year. Write the students ideas and thoughts on the board (i.e. parties, whistles, food, dancing, late nights, the dropping of the apple in New York, family, etc.).

B. Mini-lecture (Day 1): Explain to the students that other countries in the world celebrate the New Year in different ways. Explain that you are going to discuss specifically the celebration of the Cambodian New Year. Ask if anyone knows where Cambodia is on the world map (If you have a globe, use this as well so that the students will have a better visualization of where Cambodia is in relation to the United States). If so, allow the student(s) to show the class where it is. If not, show them yourself. Give them a brief description of the country.

C. Graphic Organizer (Day 1): Discuss the Cambodian New Year. Explain that the celebration occurs in mid-April, and that it lasts for three days. Talk about each of the three days (Maha Sahgkrant, Vana Bat, and Loeung Sack) and the different activities that occur each day. Give the students a graphic organizer (see appendix) that they can fill in as you discuss the different days.

D. Concept Development (Day 1): Talk with the students about the great preparation that goes into the Cambodian New Year, specifically the cleaning of the houses to rid them of evil spirits, and the making and wearing of new clothes. Discuss the concept of symbolism with them and make sure that they understand the symbolism in these preparation activities (cleaning the house and wearing new clothes are symbolic of a new beginning).

E. Activity (Day 1): Have the students clean the room completely. They should clean out their desks, dust all shelves and counters, wash windows and mirrors, clean chalk boards, vacuum/sweep the floors, etc. Make sure that students all have responsibilities (individually or as groups). This activity could be done during the last half hour or so of class, just before dismissal.

F. Mini-lecture/Activity (Day 2): Teach the students about Maha Sahgkrant. Discuss the signal of the new year (drum or bell). You may choose to have one of the school bells (lunch or recess) signal the beginning of the New Year in your class. Discuss the events of this particular day with the students. Talk about the New Angel, Thevada (DAY-veh-dah). The Cambodians believe that each year a new angel comes to be a guardian over them and their family. Talk about the sand "mountain" that the Cambodians build on the temple grounds. Cambodians believe that their lives will be as blessed as their are grains of sand. Each student will be given a small cup of dry beans (no more than 20 beans). Have them each count their beans (the numbers will vary from student to student) and record it on a piece of paper. Make sure the students record the number, because they will use it later on in another activity. After that, have them place their dry beans in the back of the room on a piece of newspaper. This will be the beginning of our class sand "mountain" (more like "mole-hill", but it will be a fun activity). For each of the three days the students will be given more dry beans to add to the sand "mountain." Each day they must write down the number of beans that they add.

G. Teacher-Directed Writing Activity (Day 3): Teach the students about Vana Bat. Discuss the activities of this day of celebration. Particularly focus on the consideration given to elders on this day. Have the students brainstorm some of the people they would give gifts to during this celebration. Discuss as a class why it would be important to pay respect to our parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. Discuss how they enrich our lives. Take a class vote on someone in the school that they could make a big card for (janitor, favorite teacher, principal) and then write a card for this person on a large piece of paper. The card could tell them of our appreciation for the acts that they do which make our lives better. Assign a few students to color the card. You may choose to attach candy. Afterwards, deliver the card as a class to the appropriate person.

H. Individual Writing Activity (Day 3): Have the students write a note with illustrations for someone who is older than them that they want to pay respect to. They will either mail or personally deliver this card.

I. Mini-lecture (Day 4): Explain to the students about the 3rd day of the Cambodian New Year, Loeung Sack. Tell them about the washing of the Buddha with perfumed water, and how the Cambodians believe that they will receive good luck and happiness through this deed. There is symbolism in this that should be pointed out (the bathing symbolizes hope for sufficient rain fall for the rice harvest).

J. Integrated Math Activity (Day 4): On the final day, the monks bless the sand "mountain," securing the health and happiness that each grain represents. As a class, figure out how many dry beans are in the class sand (bean) "mountain." First of all, have each student calculate how many dry beans they each contributed. Next, have the students get into groups (4 or 5 in each group) and calculate how many beans were contributed by the group. Finally, take the totals of the groups and determine a class figure. As a class talk about how the people in Cambodia believe that each grain of sand represents blessings and good fortune. Discuss the good fortune that you hope will come to the class based on this hill of beans (no pun intended).

K. Discussion (Day 4): After completing the activities, discuss what the students feelings are about the celebration of the Cambodian New Year. Explain that many immigrants from Cambodia celebrate the New Year here in the United States in much the same manner as a way to preserve their culture.



Graphic organizers from the mini-lecture on day 1

Participation in room cleaning (completing responsibilities)

Completed letter paying respect to an elder

math activity

participation in class discussion(s)



Graphic Organizer-


The Cambodian New Year



*Cleaning the house to rid it of evil spirits

*making and wearing new clothes


Day 1: Maha Sahgkrant

*Activities and events




Day 2: Vana Bat

*Activities and events




Day 3: Leoung Sack


*Activities and events

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