December in Europe and America means the start of the festive period and is spent preparing to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Increasingly in Cambodia bookstores, super markets and souvenir shops are copying the trend and garbing their stores in festive gear to attract customers.
Students make up most of the customers – but increasingly concerns are being raised that the young consumers do not realize that Christmas comes from Christianity, not their own Buddhist faith.
Touch Pannharong, a student at National University of Management, says that he does not really like Christmas. Pressure from his friends to join the celebrations, however, means that he feels he has to join the celebrations.
“On Christmas Day, I buy my friends and my beloved one gifts on that day because I am afraid that they will feel unhappy and angry,” he said.
Likewise, Son Somaly, 17, said, “Exchanging gifts and celebrating the ceremony becomes normal for me and my friends. We spend money on buying gifts and parties such having lunch together.”
Comparing Christmas and Cambodian ceremonies, she prefers the Cambodian ones like Water Festival when she can enjoy the buzz and festivities and buy inexpensive gifts.
Kong Sokhom, a Cambodian languages professor at Bactok High School, says, “In the past, there was no Christmas Day. There was only Khmer New Year, Pchum Ben Day, Water festival and other ceremonies celebrated by different local people.”
In her village, people celebrated a ceremony called “Dalean” to thank the land that had provided crop yields to the farmers after cultivation season.
She adds, “In Dalean ceremony, the famers both young and old brought their fruit and yields such as banana, coconut, cookies and food. They had meal together and then enjoyed dancing and singing during the ceremony.”
Mr. Sous Bo, 62, a retired government remembered Khmer New Year during his childhood, when he and his friends walked from the village to the pagoda to play traditional games and dance.
“At that time people were dancing and playing the traditional game day and night. And there was no electricity so that we danced without bass concern but real sound concern.
“There was no Christmas. Khmer New Year during my youth age and nowadays Khmer New Year are different. This Khmer New Year seems to be quiet while the past one was very happy.
Om Sophan, 58, said, of his youth: “Not only big events like Khmer New Year but also Independent day was such a happy day that we could enjoy watching in cinema, drama, and Ayay and so on. I didn’t see any Christmas celebration.”
Christmas began to be celebrated popularly in Phnom Penh in early 1970s, according to Professor Sambo Manara, history lecturer at Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Until 1975 the celebration was still small because Cambodia had undergone a lot of wars, and it was done by only in Phnom Penh people and mostly Christians, he added.