Suor sdey chnam thmei! Happy Cambodian New Year!
With the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia, Long Beach is the place to celebrate Cambodian New Year or Khmer (pronounced kmy) New Year in Southern California. Events are split into two weekends. The two weekends are usually consecutive, but they may be two weeks apart if either date falls on April 17, which is Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day (a somber day to remember the over 1 million people lost to the violent Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-79) .
Cambodian New Year Festival
The larger Cambodian New Year Festival takes place a week or two later and draws about 20,000 people to El Dorado Park for traditional ceremonies, food, traditional and modern music, dancing, customary games, carnival games and slides, and vendor and community information booths. The fee to enter the regional park is in the per car festival entrance fee, and there is no walk-in option.
In addition to watching traditional dancing on the dance and fashion show stage, you can participate in traditional social dances like the Ramvong, which is danced in a circle in a follow-the-leader style, or you might even stumble upon a unique Cambodian line dance,an or an Electric Slide, which has totally been embraced by the Cambodian community.
You'll find Buddhist monks from local temples in their own tent, with an offering area full of sand piles for placing offerings of flowers and incense, which you can purchase for this purpose.
Vendors range from traditional merchandise to electronics and commercial service providers. Information booths are set up by non-profits, healthcare services, which sometimes do health screenings on site, and Christian churches looking for converts.
Depending on who is in charge of the children's games any given year, you may find traditional Khmer games or more American-style games like musical chairs.
Over the years, they've evolved from having community organizations running authentic Cambodian food booths to having mostly Thai Food vendors that you would find at other local farmers markets and festivals, and just a couple Cambodian food vendors, which is a little disappointing if you really want Cambodian food.
The core festival area is surrounded by family groups with picnic compounds that include tents and multiple blankets and sometimes tables and chairs. You may see both young people and adults running around throwing baby powder on each other, which is a New Year tradition. You may also see people gathered around a colorful mat with a bowl playing a traditional gambling game. It's not actually legal, and some people quickly put the game away if they see the numerous police on security duty during the event heading their way, but they tend to turn a blind eye for this one day.
Cambodian New Year Festival
When: Saturday, April 22, 2017, 9 am - 5 pm
Where: El Dorado Regional Park, Area III, 7550 East Spring Street
Cost: Advance festival tickets $30/vehicle including $7 park fee, festival day $40/vehicle including park fee.
Tickets: Advance tickets can be purchased at local Cambodian businesses (see website for list). Same-day tickets can be purchased at the park entrance.
Cambodian New Year Parade and Festival
The full Cambodian New Year Parade was cancelled for 2017, but the Cambodia Town Cultural Festival and a shorter procession is still being held on Anaheim Street in front of MacArthur Park.
The Cambodian New Year Parade in Cambodia Town takes place first. It is a festive multi-cultural event with floats and dancers from all the different cultures of Long Beach. In addition to the many Cambodian dancers, musicians, floats, dignitaries and community organizations, you'll see Mexican Dancers, African American drum groups, Vietnamese dance groups and many more. The parade runs down Anaheim Street through Cambodia Town and ends at MacArthur Park where the fun continues at the Cambodia Town Cultural Festival. The dancers from the parade get their turn on stage and there are booths by community organizations. This is a much smaller, more intimate festival than the Cambodian New Year Festival at El Dorado Park later in the month.
When: Sunday, April 2, 2017
Where: Anaheim St at Gundry, Long Beach, CA
Thai New Year takes place around the same time as Cambodian New Year. See where you can celebrate Thai New Year in Los Angeles.