In the tenth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in September, Cambodian Buddhists celebrate the Pak Ben, 14 days during which they will wake before dawn each morning to prepare offerings of food and other gifts to the monks living in the local pagoda and to their ancestors. On the 15th day villagers visit the pagoda with offerings of sweet sticky rice and bean treats wrapped in banana leaves and other special foods to mark the P’chum Ben, or the Festival of the Dead, which marks the close of the Pak Ben.
Each morning during the festival offerings of food, often beautifully prepared and decorated, are brought to the many temples and pagodas that dot the Cambodian countryside and cityscapes. These offerings are meant for their relatives who have passed on, and each plate of decorated sweets and fruits are offered with a prayer that they will reach their loved ones. In addition, huge batches of rice mixed with sesame seed are prepared each morning and spread along the ground in front of the pagoda where it is left for the hungry ghosts, as spirits who wander the world without any living ancestors to take care of their memory are known.
The P’chum Ben festival is a day when people wear their finest clothes, get together with family and friends at the local pagoda, listen to music and speeches by monks, abbots and other important local figures, and enjoy the culinary delicacies whipped up for the occasion. While this Buddhist festival has important and serious underpinnings, it is also a time for people to spend a day visiting their friends and families, and enjoying the celebrations.