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Cambodian New Year adds religious diversity to Easter weekend

Monday, April 13, 2009 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 2:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Cambodian buddhist monk Savann Mey meditates during Cambodian New Year ceremonies at the monastic temple off Highway 63 in northern Boone County. Cambodian Buddhists from all over Missouri and beyond gathered for three days of festivities. Savann Mey has been living in Boone County for four years and is the only Cambodian Buddhist monk in the state.

COLUMBIA — Easter weekend has always had a singular feel around Boone County.

Church parking lots and sanctuaries are conspicuously fuller than usual. Families and loved ones gather together dressed in their best, and children can be found running wildly, basket in hand, in search of pastel eggs. Traditions such as these help make this a joyful time of the year, but the hallowed Christian holiday wasn’t the only sacred event celebrated in Boone County this weekend.

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The Wat Angkor Cambodian Buddhist Temple near Hallsville on Old Highway 63 played host to an entirely different tradition from halfway around the globe: the Cambodian New Year festival or Chol Chnam Thmey in the Khmer language.

While the temple is always an interesting place to visit in Boone County, it was an authentic and colorfully enchanting slice of Cambodia as Cambodian Buddhists from all over gathered together to commemorate the holiday.

The Cambodian New Year celebration lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, usually April 13, based on the Buddhist calendar.

In Cambodia, the holiday is all-encompassing. Celebrations can be found everywhere in all aspects of daily life, but the most important rituals must take place at a holy temple. Fortunately for Cambodian Buddhists in Missouri, there is the Wat Angkor Temple in Boone County. 

Occupied for the last four years by Savann Mey, the only Cambodian Buddhist monk who lives and practices in Missouri, the temple transforms into a remarkably beautiful hosting ground to Chol Chnam Thmey each year.

There are several customs that make the holiday unique, most notably the erection of sand mounds on the temple grounds representing holy burial grounds.

Participants plant incense in the mounds and leave offerings for loved ones and family who they believe have passed on to the next life while praying for their happiness and comfort.

As with all culturally significant traditions, an outsider has much to be curious about, but despite such distant origins, the Cambodian festivities share much in common with Easter celebrations elsewhere in the county.

The temple was fuller than usual. Families and loved ones were gathered together dressed in their best, and children were found running wildly around pastel-colored decorations.


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