PEACE ON EARTH OR ELSE
Santa wears a handgun to ensure the message gets through
A CAMBODIAN Christmas? Perhaps it's not what most Westerners would think of as a
traditional holiday. But for the homesick or nostalgic, a trip to Psar Thmei can
supply you with just about all your Yuletide needs.
You can wrap up your gifts of kramas or barbecued spiders and put them under a bona
fide - if plastic - Christmas tree, available decorated or plain in a variety of
Sun Sakhan, 49, who has expanded her plastic flower-selling stall into Christmas
trees and ornaments for the past six years, said she sells up to three trees a day
to foreigners and Khmers. The trees cost between $3 and $55, depending on size and
"They buy the stuff to decorate their houses, shops or church or to enjoy the
new year," she said. "Even the Buddhist people, they come and buy my stuff
And the variety of decorations abounds. Traditional tinsel garlands, wreaths, ornaments
and Santa hats are readily available, most of them made in China.
Less traditional items are also available, such as a large Santa doll found in a
local restaurant. Around his fat, jolly belly, Santa sports a belt with a plastic
holster and pistol. "He needs it for protection," said a waiter.
A stall holder at Psar Thmei said up to 15 customers per day are spending between
$4 and $50 in order to snap up such goodies.
"People buy gifts for their friends or relatives, or to decorate their homes,
shops or even their brothel," she said.
"I don't know the tradition of celebrating such ceremony, I just sell my goods...
In my own opinion, the people who buy these goods to decorate are just trying to
get the attention from the other people during the universal new year, or are the
rich people who have a lot of money and don't know what to spend it on."
One Khmer customer browsing through the dolls and ornaments said he too was unsure
about what Christmas really stood for, but celebrated the holiday anyway.
"I buy this stuff as gifts for children," said Prom Chanvuthy, 18. "I
have celebrated this ceremony for the past two years when I noticed that this ceremony
is celebrated in foreign countries....
"I was Buddhist but I have converted my belief to Christ in the last four years
when missionaries introduced Christ in Cambodia," he said, adding: "I don't
know the tradition of the ceremony."
A Buddhist monk said that while Buddhism does not prohibit celebrating Christmas,
the holiday's increasing popularity may pose a challenge to Buddhism.
"The Buddha does not force or prevent any one to or from practicing any belief,
so the celebration of Christmas by the Buddhists in Cambodia does not violate any
laws or the principle of Buddhism," said Ven. Rin Mony-chantor, 27, of Wat Mohamontrei.
But he warned: "The Christmas celebration by the Buddhists is a sign that Buddhism
in this country is deteriorating."
One merchant said he put a tree in his shop only for commercial reasons. "I
don't worry that the celebration may affect Buddhism, I just want to create a friendly
atmosphere for my customers," said Chy Sila, the owner of CD World Shop on Sihanouk
Boulevard. "On the other hand, I don't feel that Buddhism prevents me from celebrating."
He hopes his $80 spent on decorations - a tree adorned with Santas, birds, lights
and, of course, shiny silver CDs - will attract the attention of passing customers
who are mostly foreigners.
Betouch Kakada, 28, the manager of the Bokor Caltex Service Station on Mao Tse-Tung
and Monivong Blvds., said her director told her to buy Christmas things for the StarMart
"I decorated my station to attract the attention from the other people, especially
children," she said, adding that she spent $50 on decorations - garlands, ornaments,
and lights that chirp out electronic Christmas carols (volume control included).
"When the children pass by or they come to my station once, they will demand
that their parents come again because they like the Christmas tree," said Kakada.
Some of the original spirit of Christmas - peace on earth, goodwill and generosity
- seems to have made it through the cultural divide, even if inadvertently.
Tree-seller Sun Sakhan said: "I hope this year my business is better than others,
because the people now feel more peaceful in their minds, so they are happy to celebrate
And Caltex's Kakada said with a smile that she had already given away many of her
tree's ornaments to children. "Maybe by Christmas Day I will have given them
all away," she said laughing.