Pchum Ben is the second largest public holiday after Khmer New Year in Cambodia, it has been celebrated every year with great devotion by the Khmer people for longer than anyone can remember. It is a time to reunite with parents, siblings, relatives and friends who come together to do a good deed dedicated to those who have passed away.
Families prepare food for their ancestors for two or three days before Pchum Ben. Most every house always makes the special cakes of sticky rice wrapped in leaves, which are only made for the festival. There is a story about the cakes that I will tell you, while I will leave you to enjoy learning more about the Pchum Ben festival on the Internet!
The cakes are made of sticky rice, which is wrapped in banana, coconut or bamboo leaves and filled with pork, beef or fruit. The cake is called Nom Ansom when it is round and long, and Nom Gorm when it looks like a Pyramid. There are also names for other cake shapes! The cake symbolism is that sticky rice represents united relationships of all beings: families, friends, races, nations and planets. The leaf wrapping means that all lives should be wrapped in nature and the environment, and lived with all living and the passed on beings. All lives in this world should be together, because one life cannot live without others.
During normal times, Cambodians criss cross their country traveling to their home provinces for Pchum Ben, and visit the pagoda to give offerings to the monks and old people. They then pray and dedicate their sticky rice cakes to their dead loved ones. There are crowds of so many families at many large public events held in pagodas and villages.
This year is very different. It is quiet because the people are scared of catching COVID-19. Consequently, they are having a small family gathering and one permitted visit to the pagoda before going straight home.
We all pray that next year will be a new different!