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Ancestors' Day – October 13, 2023

Pchum Ben or Ancestor’s Day is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar and this year, it is held from October 13 to October 20. It is a Cambodian religious holiday that is often referred to as “Ancestor’s Day” or the “Ancestors Festival.” The festivities last for 15 days before culminating in a final celebration on Pchum Ben. The first 14 days of the Khmer month Pheakta Bot are called Kan Ben. It is the longest and most unique festival in Cambodia. The day is spent paying respects to deceased relatives of up to seven generations. For Cambodians, it is during this time that the gates of hell are opened and the spirits of the ancestors are active.

History of Ancestors' Day

The Pchum Ben festival originated in the Angkorian era when people followed animism. Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a spiritual essence. Buddhism replaced Animism as the leading religion but since both emphasize respect for the deceased ancestors, the old customs under the new religion have remained. In the Khmer language, the official language of Cambodia, Pchum or Brochum means “a meeting or gathering” and Ben means “a ball of something”, such as rice or meat.

During Pchum, Ben Khmers cook and offer meals to the souls of their relatives as they believe it eases their suffering. The souls are seen as hungry ghosts with tiny mouths but enormous appetites. It is said that if you were greedy, envious, or jealous in your lifetime you would become a hungry ghost after death. Most believers will prepare food for the Buddhist monks as it is an act that transfers merit to the hungry ghosts, while many believe that the food itself is transferred from the monks to their ancestors. People will also throw rice into fields as some believe the food offerings are transferred directly to the dead.

It is believed that there are four kinds of ghosts: those eating pus and blood, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungry ghosts, and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks. The others may only receive food from their relatives once their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.

Although this is a fairly unique festival there are similarities to festivals in Sri Lanka and Taiwan.

Ancestors' Day timeline

First Century B.C.
Beginning in the Mahayana Period

Pchum Ben begins during the Mahayana period in the first century B.C.

802 A.D.
Celebration During Angkorian Period

Pchum Ben is still celebrated during the Angkorian period in 802 A.D. even though the majority of people believed in animism.

Fifth Century A.D.
Buddhism is Introduced

Buddhism is brought to Cambodia.

1181 A.D.
Reign of the First Buddhist King

King Jayavarman VII, the first king who was a devoted Buddhist, begins his reign.

King Jayavarman VII Advocates for Monks

King Jayavarman VII appeals to his people to offer the monks food and other necessities for daily life during Pchum Ben.

Ancestors' Day FAQs

Who celebrates Pchum Ben?

It’s the Cambodian people who celebrate by paying respect to their ancestors.

What was the original purpose of Pchum Ben?

It is a time for Cambodians to honor their previous seven generations of ancestors.

What is Halloween called in Cambodia?

Pchum Ben draws many parallels to the Western holiday of Halloween.

How to Observe Ancestors' Day

  1. Visit a pagoda

    Visit a pagoda if you are in Cambodia. Cambodians are very open to sharing their traditions with others.

  2. Prepare something for your elders

    Prepare lunch or supper for your parents or grandparents. Respect for one's elders is an important practice in Cambodian culture.

  3. Prepare Bay Bens

    Learn how to prepare Bay Bens. It is a sticky ball of rice made with coconut milk and is a big part of the festival.

5 Interesting Facts About Cambodia

  1. New Year is in April

    Cambodia’s New Year’s celebrations, Choul Chnam Thmey, are held in mid-April each year.

  2. Insects are a common dish on menus

    Crickets, ants, and even tarantulas all form part of a Cambodian diet.

  3. The only flag to feature a building

    The Cambodian Flag features Angkor Wat, which is a world heritage-listed site. {Largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia

  4. Largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia

    Tonle Sap in Cambodia, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, flows in two directions.

  5. Cambodia has had four different names

    Over the past 60 years, Cambodia has had four different names: ‘The Kingdom of Cambodia,’ ‘The Khmer Republic,' ‘Democratic Kampuchea,' and ‘The People’s Republic of Kampuchea.’

Why Ancestors' Day is Important

  1. It lasts 15 days

    Over two weeks of celebrations sound good to us! Take some time off to celebrate!

  2. We pay respect to our ancestors

    Pchum Ben allows us to pay our respects, honor, and remember our heritage and ancestors. This is important no matter what culture you belong to.

  3. It is about community

    The night before the celebrations, villagers come from all around to prepare the pagoda of their village. Pchum Ben is when the villagers gather to celebrate in their villages.

Ancestors' Day dates

2022September 24Saturday
2023October 13Friday
2024October 1Tuesday
2025September 21Sunday
2026October 10Saturday

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