Cambodians celebrate CNY amid pandemic with hopes for health and wealth

People hold pots of flowers for Chinese New Year decorations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Feb. 8, 2021. - Xinhua

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua): For Meas Channary, a Cambodian of Chinese descent, the Chinese New Year, or known as the Spring Festival, is one of the best annual occasions to honour her ancestors and enjoy a family gathering.

Days ahead of the Spring Festival, the 36-year-old Phnom Penh resident said she has always decorated her house with red-color paper cuts, flowers, red lanterns and Chinese couplets to greet the New Year.

"Usually, we pray to express our gratitude to our ancestors and to ask for happiness and good business in the New Year," she told Xinhua.

"This year, even though our country is still suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and our income declines, we still celebrate the Spring Festival because it's our culture and tradition," she added.

Chea Huykong, a 37-year-old vendor of Chinese New Year decorations and items in Phnom Penh, said a few weeks before the festival, business is booming.

"Despite the ongoing Covid-19 threat, a lot of people still come to buy New Year decorations," she told Xinhua.

"I hope that in the New Year, we will be able to return to normal life after China provided Covid-19 vaccines to Cambodia," she said.

The Chinese New Year is not an official holiday in Cambodia, but it is broadly celebrated, as some schools, private companies and institutions are closed by themselves on the occasion.

Long Ponnasirivath, secretary of state and spokesman of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that the country usually observes three New Year festivals a year, namely the Universal New Year, the Chinese New Year and the Cambodian New Year.

"Currently, there are a lot of Cambodians with Chinese ancestry, and during the Spring Festival, no matter if they are Cambodians of Chinese descent or pure Cambodians, they take this occasion to enjoy together," he told Xinhua.

The spokesman attributed the broad celebration to the country's respect for cultural diversity and freedom of belief, and excellent relations between the peoples of the two countries.

Sambo Manara, vice president of the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said that the Spring Festival has been gaining its popularity in the country from year to year thanks to closer ties in politics, economics and culture between the two countries.

"We estimate that about 80 per cent of Cambodians living in urban areas and 40 per cent in rural areas celebrate the Chinese New Year," he said.

"We can witness with our own eyes, during the Spring Festival, most shops and businesses in the capital are closed as their owners are busy celebrating the festival," said Manara, who is also a history professor.

Ponnasirivath said both the Cambodian and Chinese people have a very similar way to worship their ancestors, that is why it is easy for them to celebrate the festival together.

"I think both Chinese and Cambodians have the same belief -- worshipping the spirit of their ancestors, so the festival is an occasion for them to pray and express their gratitude to their ancestors," he said.

Diep Sophal, a history professor at the University of Cambodia, said that people usually make offerings of roasted piglets or chickens and other praying items to their ancestors based on their affordable resources, and pray for happiness and good business in the New Year.

He added that some families invite lion dances to perform at their houses or businesses to usher in the Spring Festival and ward off bad luck.

Both Cambodians and Chinese "are very grateful and always honour their ancestors," he noted.

Sophal said that some believe that the celebration will bring good luck to their businesses in the New Year.

Ponnasirivath said that according to the history, the Spring Festival has been celebrated in Cambodia since ancient times.

Meanwhile, Manara said the two countries have had centuries of historic, cultural and commercial relationships and that it is believed that Cambodians and Chinese have celebrated the Spring Festival together since the first century when they began to trade with each other.

"This demonstrates that Cambodians are open-hearted to accept the cultural value of other countries," he said.

"The close relationship between Cambodia and China today is also a result of centuries of great relationship between the peoples of the two countries."

Similarly, the two peoples "are like brothers and enjoy the festival together," Sophal said.

Chea Monyrith, president of the Chinese Cambodian Evolution Researcher Association, said the wide celebration in Cambodia truly reflects the fraternal relationship between the peoples of both countries.

"People celebrating the Chinese New Year are to build closer friendship with their Chinese friends, their business partners, and their neighbors who have Chinese ancestry," he told Xinhua.

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