Ooc-Om-Bok this year was a festival for everyone in the southern province of Soc Trang, whether they were Khmers, Chinese-Vietnamese or Vietnamese.
The Khmer ethnic group in the province celebrated the full-moon festival in mid-October (lunar calendar), which fell on November 26 this year. They prayed to the Moon for bumper harvests all the year round, prosperity and happiness.
Endless lines of people walked to the celebration sites. It was a jubilant time in the province. This year's celebrations were marked with folk art performances, including floating flames, flying balloons, and performances of Du Ke and Ro Bam, the Khmer stage arts.
People flocked to downtown Soc Trang for shopping at a trade fair and watched traditional sports and games such as snail chess.
The Ho Nuoc Ngot (Fresh Water Lake) cultural site last night was crowded with people, who stayed up till mid-night to see Khmer artisans fly their traditional balloons. Legend has it that those who watch balloons flying and disappearing to the sky will have their wishes fulfilled.
The festival continued till next morning with a boat race. Hundreds of people enthusiastically supported their favourite teams and enjoyed the race.
During the night of the festival, family members gather in the front yard of the communal pagoda or of their houses, preparing a feast with farm produce such as green rice flakes, ripe bananas, freshly peeled coconuts and mangoes to offer to the moon. The feast always has green rice flakes, which are a special produce of the Khmer people.
As the moon rises, the offering ceremony begins; all family members sit flat on the ground, clasping their hands. An elderly man expressed their gratitude to the moon and says the prayers for continued good crops and good health.
After the ceremony, all the people clasp their hands, looking at the moon, while receiving green rice flakes from the elderly man and making their wishes.
People release paper lanterns into the sky and banana-tree rafts into a river. These rafts are decorated with colourful lights and loaded with offerings.
On the occasion of the Ooc-Om-Bok festival, localities with a large number of Khmer people hold traditional cultural and entertainment activities, including volleyball competitions and song and dance performances.
Ooc-Om-Bok is no longer a festival of the Khmer ethnic group only. It has now become popular in the whole of Soc Trang province.
The Khmers mainly live in Soc Trang, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Can Tho, Kien Giang and An Giang provinces in the Mekong Delta.
ND - (29/11/2004)