New Year's preparations, Chinese-style

New Year's preparations, Chinese-style


It's all lanterns and flowers in Phnom Penh's markets as Sino-Cambodians shop until they drop in preparation for the Spring Festival.

Photo by:

Sovann Philong

Chinese New Year decorations at O'Russei Market Thursday.

AS the most important event in the Chinese lunar calendar, the New Year, or chun jie, is a major event for the many Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian-Chinese in the Kingdom.

Ahead of New Year's Day on Monday, people of Chinese descent have been busy decorating their homes with red lanterns, lights and flowers after a thorough spring cleaning - preparations that differ little in any Chinese-speaking community, including on the mainland itself.

In China and Cambodia alike, the New Year is a time for remembering ancestors and for making offerings to gods deemed the bearers of good or bad fortune for the coming year - in this case, the Year of the Ox.

 It's a rigidly followed tradition that will next week take place across the Kingdom as thousands gear up for the holiday.

"My family has to offer food to the gods twice, in the afternoon and in the evening, and we have to buy a cake or other things for our relatives," said 25-year-old Yang Gui Zhang.

Yang notes the rising cost of celebrating the New Year - as did many others preparing for the celebration - but she sees the additional cost as a necessity given the importance of the Spring Festival.

"Chinese New Year is important for Chinese people, like the Khmer New Year, so we all have to [spend] in order to pray to our ancestors .... We only have one chance per year," she said.

She said she will spend about US$200 on New Year's preparations this month - more than her parents spent in 2008 - and although the rising cost of the festival has not affected her preparations, she notes that "some families have reduced spending on food compared to before, and they therefore buy just necessities" for the event.

Yet, spending in preparation for the Lunar New Year carries greater significance than a simple outlay of money.

Aside from the tradition of purchasing offerings for ancestors and the gods; as Chinese prepare to make merit next week, they are also considering their potential financial return in the Year of the Ox.

"We feel if we don't celebrate a proper start [to the year] by paying respect to our ancestors as part of a huge welcome for the New Year, then our business for the coming year will face many obstacles or won't go smoothly," said 34-year-old Cheng Leang, a Phnom Penh resident living near O'Russei Market.

It's a question of clear-cut economics, he added: "If we spend more, we expect to earn more in return." And so, having spent a little more than $100 on past New Year celebrations, Cheng Leang and his family plan to double their expenditure this time round, a New Year investment in economically uncertain times.

If we spend more, we expect to earn more in return.

For 25-year-old housewife Tang Rattana, her outlay on the forthcoming celebrations has increased as she prepares to welcome more family members to her home in preparation for the Year of the Ox.
"This year, my family has planned to prepare for a bigger celebration than last year," she said.

Huy Kimlang, a 56-year-old Cambodian-Chinese mother, perhaps epitomises the general attitude towards the Spring Festival.

Her five children, scattered across different provinces in Cambodia, will all be coming home on her orders.

She's already got the house ready for her returning sons and daughters, bought food in preparation at the market and is now looking forward to Monday, New Year's Day - a reminder that above all, the Lunar New Year here is a chance for families to reunite across Cambodia.



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