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Cambodia - American Cultural Differences - Three Major Holidays of the United States and Cambodia

Updated on November 23, 2010

Contrast of American and Khmer Religious Holidays


Khmer- American Cultural Exchange – Main Holidays of the United States and Cambodia

As two cultures come together, there seem to be a number of ways to bridge the gap of understanding including learning the general tendencies of each other’s cultures and the historical background of each other’s respective country. 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 three main holidays of the United States and Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Three Major Holiday Festivals

Cambodia’s three main holidays are Khmer New Year celebrated in mid-April; Bun Pchum Ben celebrated somewhere between mid-September and early October; and Bun Om Touk (or the Water Festival). The exact dates each year of the last two festivals are determined according to the Lunar calendar.

Cambodia’s Chol Chnum Thmey - Khmer New Year

Cambodia’s first major holiday festival is Khmer New Year ( or Chol Chnum Thmey in the Khmer language). Khmer New Year is a three day affair beginning April 13th or 14th. During those three days, the Khmer people welcome the New Year angel on the first day (corresponding with the Chinese New Year symbols such as the year of the rat, snake, and so forth); give alms to the poor on the second day; and go daeling (or out on the town or village) on the third day. Khmer New Year also has a number of traditional games associated with it.

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

Cambodia’s second major holiday festival is Bun Pchum Ben or the Ancestor’s Day Festival. According to Travel, Bun Pchum Ben is a fifteen day memorial festival when the Khmer people pay homage to the 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.

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.

The Three Major Holidays in the United States of America

Like Cambodia, the citizens of the United States of America celebrate three major holidays including Christmas celebrated in late December; Easter celebrated sometime between late-March and mid-April, and Thanksgiving held on the fourth Thursday of November. According to Mary Fairchild from, the exact date of Easter is determined in coordination with the Paschal Full Moon date of the year.

The United States’ Christmas Holiday Celebration

Christmas is the first major holiday celebrated by citizens of the United States of America. Christmas is a one day holiday celebrated every year on December 25th in order to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the main figure in Christianity. Even though Christmas is a single day event, festivities leading up to the holiday last up to a full month with parties and other holiday related activities. Since the mid-1800s Christmas has been associated with gift giving and the mythical character Santa Claus who allegedly brings gifts to all children the night before Christmas.

The Easter Holiday in America

Another important holiday in the United States of America is Easter. Easter is a three day event beginning with what is called Good Friday and ending on Easter Sunday. This holiday commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth said to be the Christ who gave his life to save all people from the penalty of their misdeeds. Over the centuries since Jesus life, death and resurrection, Easter became associated with the newest of springtime and symbols of fertility like eggs. As of 2010, many in the United States add Easter egg hunts and candy to the celebration.

Thanksgiving in the United States of America

The last major holiday celebrated by most people in America is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is held annually on the fourth Thursday of every November. This holiday festival is held in commemoration of the many blessings God had bestowed during the year. Thanksgiving was supposedly first celebrated by Pilgrims settlers in the early 17th century who wanted to give thanks to God for allowing them to survive their first winter on American soil.


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      Mary Norton 6 years ago

      Interesting comparison of both cultures using their major holidays.