A 19-year-old girl, angry and disappointed, rang her boyfriend a day after Christmas last year and said it was time to break up.
Seng Vanryka, a first-year student at University of Cambodia, said: “I was so disappointed and frustrated when my boyfriend didn’t give me any gift on Christmas. That was so embarrassing to me.”
Christmas is now commonly celebrated in Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh. The trend of exchanging gifts is soaring in popularity. But are young Cambodians taking it too far?
Seng Vanryka continued: “I don’t care how much the gift is worth, but I need it, just as much as any other girl.”
Some young Cambodians, especially girls, feel ashamed if they don’t get a gift from their special someone on Christmas.
Kong Thida, 18, also had a disappointing Christmas last year. “I was so lonely,” she said. “I didn’t get any gifts, from anyone – even my boyfriend and best friend.
“I went to school and saw all of my friends, cheerful, holding gifts, and then I saw myself with nothing. I felt so ashamed.”
University student Chhoun Manin, on the other hand, normally receives gifts every-year.
“I feel like Christmas shows me who’s a friend and who isn’t. If someone doesn’t like me, then they won’t give me a gift. I feel happy and pleased when I get a gift from someone, because it shows they care about me. Christmas is the best day to exchange gifts, I think, because it’s celebrated only once a year,” Chhoun Manin said.
To satisfy his girlfriend, and fulfill his own obligation of being a good boyfriend, Chhun Panharath, a student at Royal University of Phnom Penh, said: “I do not care much about the value or meaning behind a gift I give my sweetheart. I just know that a gift can bring a smile to her face.”
Khan Sareth, a psychology lecturer at Royal University, said: “Getting gifts on a special day becomes a competition for youth, especially ladies who like to show off what they have. They are at an age where they challenge one another.”
He also explained that young Cambodians can be easily influenced by society, because they want to learn, and imitate one another.
“If they [young Cambodians] don’t get any gifts on Christmas while most of their friends are getting one, they’ll lose confidence. This can lead to depression, even, because they’ll feel unequal to others – not as beautiful, maybe, or not as popular,” Khan Sareth said.
“Youth seem to have a superficial understanding of our culture, or get things confused about our culture quite easily. It is an advantage to have other cultures flow into our country, so that we can all learn and understand from them. However, forgetting our own culture is a real risk.”
If you go to any store this Christmas, you’ll notice that the sale racks are flooded with teenagers. In contrasts to Cambodian New Year’s, goods are sold at a higher price than normal.
Yet, the high prices and sizeable crowds still don’t stop this generation of young Cambodians from Christmas consumerism.