The recent news that 6 public holidays will be cut in 2020 may have pleased big business, but Cambodia is host to several ‘unofficial’ days off throughout the year, mostly celebrated by Sino/Vietnamese Khmer, but often used as a reason to down tools by many.
August 15, 2019 is Chung-Yuan known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, Zhongyuan Jie (中元節), Gui Jie (鬼節) or Yulan Festival. To many non-Chinese speakers in the kingdom it is referred to as Chinese Pchum Ben.
One day, he saw his deceased mother had been born among hungry ghosts. He went down to Hell, filled a bowl with food to provide for his mother. Before reaching his mother’s mouth, the food turned into burning coals which couldn’t be eaten. Moggallana cried sorrowfully and asked for help from Buddha. Buddha said the sins of his mother was deep and firmly rooted, it couldn’t be forgiven just using the divine power and it’s required the combined power of thousand monks to get rid of her sins.
Buddha told Moggallana that, ” the 15th day of the 7th lunar month is the Pavarana Day for the assembled monks of all directions. You should prepare an offering of clean basins full of hundreds of flavors and the five fruits, and other offerings of incense, oil, lamp, candle… to the greatly virtuous assembled monks. Your present parents and parents of seven generations will escape from sufferings.”
Following Buddha’s instructions, Moggallana’s mother obtained liberation from sufferings as a hungry host by receiving the power of the merit and virtue form the awesome spiritual power of assembled monks on 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Today, similar rituals are held in the Buddhism temples on this day for the deliverance of all suffering spirits.
Modern day families will leave food and drinks as offerings to their ancestors, who will leave hell to feast.
The festival is celebrated across Asia among different Buddhist sects and even some branches of Hinduism. However, it is not an official holiday in mainland China.