In most countries the New Year is celebrated on the first day of January, but in Cambodia, my home for three years, we got to celebrate New Year three times every 365 days.
First comes the international New Year on January 1st, best known for late-night parties and morning-after hangovers.
Then there is the Chinese New Year in January or February. The Chinese New Year is a time to light firecrackers, visit relatives, and burn faux paper money to one’s ancestors.
The most important New Year, though, is the Cambodian New Year. During the two-week celebrations leading up to New Year, almost everyone returns to their ancestral birthplace to visit with relatives and to pay respect to their forebears. The celebrations span three or four days in what is mid-April on the international calendar. This is not only the most important holiday of the year, but also the only time that some people ever take off from work—and everybody does.
The first day of Cambodian New Year, according to tradition, marks the inauguration of the new angels who come to take care of the world for a one-year period. People clean and decorate their houses and prepare fruits and drinks to welcome the angels into every home. Elderly people meditate or pray, children play traditional games, and singles look for that special someone to marry.
The second day is for offering gifts to elders. Many employers also give gifts to their employees, and people donate money or clothes to the poor. In the evening, people visit temples to ask the monks for blessings of happiness and peace.
On the evening of the third day, the New Year festival ends with ceremonial bathing.
One thing that the three New Years have in common is that each is a time to evaluate one’s life, set new goals, and resolve to do things better in the coming year.
Actually, every day can be a new beginning because every day is another chance to do things better. We may have some pieces to pick up from the previous days, but we can take heart in a promise found in the Bible: God’s love and mercy are renewed every morning.1 So instead of saying “Happy New Year” once or even three times a year, we should say “Happy New Day” every day, because it’s another opportunity to give life our best shot.