2554: the Year of the Tiger

Posted on April 25, 2010


Girls performing a Khmer Classical Dance

Welcome to the year 2554 of the Buddhist era!  Although the official date usually falls on the 13th or 14th of April, Lynn’s Khmer community celebrated the holiday on Saturday the 24th due to rain the week before. Festivities included traditional dancing, chanting, music, food (surprisingly no Cambodian cuisine, but good ole’ American hamburgers), games and speakers at the Buddhist temple Sanghikaram Wat Khmer on 110 Chestnut St.

Organizers used the opportunity to encourage the Southeast Asian community to fill out the 2010 census, volunteers in yellow t-shirts sprinkled throughout the vibrant crowd. Two banks of resource tables were filled with representatives from organizations like the Lynn Community Health Center, the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and the Mass Asian Pacific Islanders for Health.

The keynote address was delivered by Eugene Schneeberg, director of Operations for Straight Ahead Ministries and candidate for City Councilor at Large in the most recent election. Mr. Schneeberg was awarded a Community Ally Award by the Khmer Cultural Planning Committee (KCPC) of Lynn to recognize the work he has done for inner city youth. Other speakers included US Representative John Tierney, Ward Councillors Brendan Crighton and Peter Capano, and KCPC Chair Sophor Chhour.

Traditionally, Khmer New Year is a 3 day long celebration. On the first day, Maha Songkran, the Buddhist temple sounds the drum or bell to herald the arrival of the New Angel. On the second day, Virak Wanabat, children show respect to elders by giving them gifts and everyone offers service and charity to others. On the third day, Trigay Leang Sak, Buddha statues are washed with perfumed water to bring luck happiness and long life.

I took off my shoes to go into the temple, asking if it was OK to take pictures. An old man assured me it was. Later he explained to me the custom of bowing 3 times before the Buddha and making a wish. This I did with his encouragement, kneeling on the colorful rugs.

The man on the left welcomed me into the temple and explained the tradition of bowing 3 times to the Buddha.

Outside, I noticed many people, children mostly, with whitish patches on their hair and skin. The first time I saw a young girl with it, I thought it must be some exotic skin disease. As I saw more and more people with this “condition,” I had to ask someone what it was. As I spoke with Kathia Kirschner of Khmer American Youth in Action at one of the resource tables, I noticed her left ear was white with powder. She explained that it is a tradition that evolved in America where revelers throw baby powder at each other in fun. (Check out Lynn Happens to see pictures of this) Much like our funny hats and horns on New Year’s Eve I thought.

You can see the powder on the faces of some youth.

See more pictures.

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