Not everyone was partying as the millennium turned.
After all, in Buddhism it is the year 2543.
At local wats, some Buddhists were decidedly indifferent about the whole affair. And a small group expressed concerns that the celebrations—marking 2000 years since the birth of Jesus Christ—indicate that “there is too much influence of other religions on our country.”
Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council and the former second in command for the Son Sann Party, attacked the government-organized festival at Siem Reap.
“The parade of these so-called government officials showing themselves as in a show-business, for the sake of the universal trend…[is] aping unconsciously the western unspiritual and technological consumerist civilization,” Soubert wrote in a letter to The Cambodia Daily. “I guess the power of money supersedes any other consideration and the Khmer no doubt will lose their soul and turn to other religious faiths.”
Some Buddhists in local wats echoed his complaints.
“The government should not do this event too big like this because the Constitution says the country’s main religion is Buddhism,” said San Ngin, 25, a monk at Wat Koh on Monivong Boulevard.
At least four monks and nuns interviewed worried that “there is too much influence of other religions in our country. We are afraid that religious conflict will occur in our country like in other countries.”
Still that view was by no means unanimous—and that was clear at celebrations across the country, where thousands of partygoers ushered in the Christian millennium with traditional Khmer dancing, music and good food.
Ek Chenda, who came to Wat Phnom in central Phnom Penh to celebrate the New Year, argued the festival at Siem Reap will help promote tourism.
“I don’t see Christianity as having influenced the festival or ceremonies,” he said. “I am proud to have lived in two millenniums.
It is normal for Khmers to celebrate Khmer New Year, Chinese New Year, and world New Year. I think this event is festive because Cambodians made it, not because Cambodians are influenced by other religions.”
Some Cambodians were concerned for other reasons. Some believe the event presages possible catastrophe. And by midnight, rumors about what it all meant had spread across the city.
Some stayed up all night believing it will bring good luck—that to go to sleep would bring death—or even that those who slept would wake up with a bad stomachache.
Some baked special cakes, known as “ansam cakes,” which are believed to erase “bad karma.”
Others let birds free believing it would help them atone for bad Karma created by sins in the past and survive a predicted third Veal, or period of danger in a lifetime, that some believe will in 2000 parallel hardships experienced during the regimes of the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol .