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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodians make merry for Xmas

Cambodians make merry for Xmas

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Christmas decoration at one of the shops on Sisowath Quay.

While they do not always know what the holiday is about, many young Cambodians view Christmas as the perfect opportunity to get together with friends and exchange small gifts

Most Cambodians are not Christians, and they don't always know what Christmas is all about, other than that it's a religious celebration. But this doesn't mean they don't celebrate this "Western" tradition.

Chan Rattana, 16, is a very well-organized young girl who has perfected the art of celebrating Christmas. She has already bought postcards for her friends and has organised to meet her classmates from Sisowath High School to "eat something together on the 25th, then exchange gifts and go to a concert at the ELT English School".

"Christmas Day is an interesting ceremony, strange to our Khmer culture, but it is great to give presents to friends. It is a really friendly day."

However, Chan Rattana's classmate, Chan Vortey, 16, has learned not to get overly excited about Christmas, as she doesn't want to offend her elderly grandmother who is very attached to Cambodian culture.

For Chan Vortey, Christmas Day is dedicated to friends, whereas Khmer ceremonies are dedicated to the family. She will not buy any gifts but will send text messages to her friends living in the province and buy postcards. She also wants to give a traditional Apsara picture to her foreign neighbours as a Christmas gift.

Chan Vortey might be one of the growing number of customers of Oum Vantha, 35, a books and anniversaries gift seller near Sisowath High School. While she said last year she sold 1,000 postcards on Christmas, Oum Vantha says she doesn't personally celebrate the holiday.

Saiy Samphorse, 21, a shoe seller at Sorya Centre,  said she has been so busy that she doesn't have time to even entertain the possibility of celebrating Christmas. She said that she will try to buy gifts for her close friends if she has the time.

Christmas day is an interesting ceremony, strange to our khmer culture ...

A Khmer-American, Srey Roth, 23, is ready to spend between US$10 and US$20 for each gift she is planning to give  to her close friends and relatives for her first Christmas in Cambodia.
"I was surprised when I arrived to see so many Christmas trees here. Americans and Cambodians celebrate Christmas the same way. People exchange gifts and have parties."

Sema Nou, 19, has been celebrating Christmas since she learned about it at her English school. Now, an assistant manager for the toy department at Monument Books, Nou's gift budget for this year is US$20. "Christmas only comes once a year, and I am happy to enjoy it with the people I like," she said.

Nou's challenge this year is to make some gifts herself.
"I don't care about the value of the gift. I don't care if it is big or small. The main thing is that it has been given with so much kindness," she said. "The gifts we receive or give are unforgettable gifts."

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