What a feast! Who’s it for? Surprisingly…not for the living!
Pchum Ben is called Ancestors’ Day. Actually, it’s 15 days (in ancient times, it lasted 3 months!) culminating with a 3-day celebration. This year the celebration falls on September 19-21 (it varies because it’s celebrated according
Lighting candles to guide the hungry “ghosts.”
to a lunar calendar). It’s a time for the Khmer to venerate and give offerings to their ancestors — food offerings, mostly.
A child honoring ancestors
Although Cambodia is only one of many Buddhist countries, Pchum Ben is almost unique to Cambodia. It’s been celebrated for longer than anyone remembers. Buddhism in Cambodia includes ancestor worship, a carryover from days before Buddhism became prominent. Dead ancestors will be reincarnated, but first they must
Portrayal of a “ghost.”
endure some punishment in hell. During Pchum Ben, the gates of hell are opened, and the spirits (or “ghosts”) of the ancestors roam the earth seeking relief from their suffering. These spirits are hungry! And they must be fed, or else they might cause bad things to happen to the living. So, the people offer food. Lots of it!
The spirit world is very real for the Khmer, and they take this festival very seriously. The offerings are not a one-time thing; offerings are made several times a day during the festival period. Beginning at 4:00
Offerings for the monks.
AM, people go to the temples and throw rice on the ground for the spirits. They return at 8:00 AM with offerings for the monks (these offerings may include money). Then, they’re back at 10:00 AM with more offerings for the monks and for the
A Khmer woman giving money to the poor.
poor (helping the poor during Pchum Ben earns merit). From 5:00-7:00 PM, the monks and the people offer prayers for the dead.
People visit as many temples (pagodas or “wats”) as they can – seven is a good goal. It’s said that the wandering spirits visit as many as seven temples looking for the offering from their relatives, so
the relatives want to ensure their ancestor finds their offering (and there are a lot of temples in Cambodia).
But it’s not all solemn. On the last day of the festival, some places hold an ancient tradition of water-buffalo races. The races — which are very colorful — are organized to entertain the ancestor-spirits before they have to return to their torment. The day may also include some wrestling and boxing matches.
Holiday festivals such as Pchum Ben are deeply ingrained in the Khmer culture. They’re very old traditions rooted in ancient beliefs. We find that even Khmer who have long been staunch Christians still retain a fear of spirits.
Khmer children praying to God.
These Christians no longer participate in the ancient rituals, yet the deep-seated fear they learned as children lingers. But they know where their comfort lies — with Christ Jesus! And they’ve learned that their protection is in prayer and trust in God! Praise the Lord!
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Prayer and Praise
Praise that we have arrived home safely. We’re looking forward to spending quality time with family, friends, and supporters.
Pray for Cambodia! The political atmosphere there is tense already, even though national elections are still far off. Pray that God protects the Khmer people and all those whom he has sent to do his work there.
Pray for the donation of gently used laptops to our ministry. The heat and dust take their toll on electrical equipment, and our Team needs replacements more often than normal. And we find that some Khmer we minister to have real need for a laptop — something most cannot afford.
We praise the Lord for you, our faithful supporters, without whose prayers and generosity this mission would not be possible. Thank you!
Would you like to join our team? The following link will take you directly to our account on the MTW (Mission to the World) website: