What did the tinsel foil say to the stars?

By Kema Hodge

Answer: Chaul Chnam Thmey.
No, not gibberish, nor Latin or even a set of random letters strung together to form a word. This phrase is used to welcome the most important holiday in Cambodia: New Years.

Wikipedia and a number of other sources will tell you that this three-day celebration reflect Buddhist traditions in which each day is aligned with new tasks. Though those traditions are of vital importance to the Cambodian culture, there is another side of the story that often gets eclipsed.

New Years Day, which in Cambodia is actually 3-days long from April 14th to April 16th, consists of family, rest, games, and lots of decorations. The decorations are so important that the police may approach wealthier homes and warn of consequences to come if decorations aren’t placed outside of the homes. What’s more, even about a month later you can still see them on many of the houses in the squatter villages. The decorations I am referring to are big plastic and hollow stars and red and gold tinsel foil with Chinese symbols.

What makes these decorations so important and possibly so hard to take down even a month later? It may have to do with the notion that they bless the families. For instance, the tinsel foil with Chinese symbols, bring good luck for the New Year and the star brings happiness and riches.

Even as I ventured across much of Siem Reap today, I mainly only noticed New Year’s decorations on the houses in the squatter villages. Squatter villages are full of people who are very impoverished and who have made a temporary living on roads that are contracted to turn into streets someday. A lot of shelters, many of which are run-down and made of recycled material, line these soon-to-be streets. These are Cambodians with a dream and a hope that better things will come with perseverance.

Some speculate that these people keep the decorations up out of laziness or need to make their homes appear more appeasing. Even so, a little extra luck never hurt anyone.


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