Autumn marks a festive time of year around the world whether you’re celebrating Samhain in Ireland, el Día de los Muertos in Mexico, or Halloween in North America. When it comes to Cambodian culture for kids, Pchum Ben or Ancestor’s Day represents another colorful fall holiday.
Let’s explore this uniquely Cambodian festival and how you and your family can participate.
Cambodian people foster a deep reverence for their elders, whether parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, or even further back. This deep respect gets manifested in Pchum Ben, a commemoration of Cambodian ancestors up to seven generations back.
Pchum translates as “to gather together” and ben as “a ball of food.” As you may have guessed, it involves time spent with family and lots of delicious cuisine. The holiday usually begins in late September or early October.
No matter when the festival begins, this three-day public holiday represents the culmination of 15 days of preparation and observance, drawing Cambodian families together to prepare food, remember ancestors, and share meals with their community.
A Shared Feast
During the lead up to Pchum Ben, a time known as Dak Ben, families who live near pagodas take turns preparing large meals to deliver to the pagodas. These meals range from very basic to highly elaborate. The food is provided for visitors from other regions, monks, and the ancestors. Food preparation begins at 4 am, and it must all reach the pagodas no later than 11 am for the monks to enjoy. Monks refrain from eating after 12 pm.
During the three-day public holiday of Pchum Ben that follows, Cambodians return to their hometowns to visit pagoda after pagoda leaving offerings. Cambodians believe their ancestors wait at the pagodas for the food that they make. This food soothes their ancestors’ hunger and earns them good karma for the next realm. Families leave small balls of food outside of the pagoda for ancestors unable to enter pagodas due to past transgressions.
During Pchum Ben, Cambodians believe the line between the spirit world and the world of the living gets blurred. (This concept infuses Samhain, Halloween, and el Día de los Muertos, too.) But food helps ease the transition of the dead into the next phase of their spiritual path. Cambodians wear white during this holiday, the color of mourning.
Cambodian Kids Help Out
Kids lend a helping hand this time of year by preparing lunch for their parents before going to the pagoda. This represents a way for kids to honor their parents and spread joy around the household. In Cambodia, respecting elders remains an essential aspect of their culture.
Kids understand that when they bless their parents by respecting them and even preparing a meal for them, they bring future blessings on themselves. They believe that how they treat their parents today will be mirrored by how their future children treat them.
Cambodian Culture for Kids
If you’re in Cambodia while Pchum Ben takes place, you and your kids can participate by visiting a pagoda to experience Cambodian culture firsthand. Just remember to show up early and dress nicely, preferably in white. While you won’t be expected to bring food, come prepared with riel notes to leave a donation.
Interested in learning more about Cambodian culture for kids? Or Cambodia travel? Check out our 13-day Thailand & Cambodia Family Adventure, a rich, kid-friendly way to visit some of the most extraordinary destinations in Asia.
At Our Whole Village, we create tours designed for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for families just like yours.