Christmas has arrived around the world, and in Cambodia the festive season hasn’t gone unnoticed as many Cambodians celebrate Christmas in their homes, at their churches or with their families.
As a result, from the start of December, Christmas decorations and Christmas trees have been seen almost everywhere – in coffee shops, book stores, supermarkets and other businesses.
Cambodian Christian Ung Vicheka, 20, who is working at ALIS, says he celebrated Christmas at home with his family last year.
“We invited about 30 neighbours to come to our house. We decorated a Xmas tree, but the tree did not represent anything. It was just for decoration,” he said. “Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, and we gave gifts to children.
“We packed books, clothes, toys and chocolates as gifts,” he added.
There are 10 members of his family and they are all Christians. Besides going to the church, he also made a party for his family.
“We had chicken, rice, drinks and bread for the party,” said Vicheka, adding that this year he could not celebrate Christmas at home because his brother is busy and he also has to celebrate two Christmas parties at church.
However, Vicheka expects to celebrate with a Christmas party at his house again next year.
Sam Dara, a Cambodian Christian who teaches at Sovannaphumi School, also celebrates Christmas in church with his mother, siblings and his friends.
“We normally start with praying. After that we have performances by children and youths. Children perform a song for Christmas and the youths perform the story of Jesus Christ,” said Dara, who added that everyone also read the Bible at the event.
There is no exchange of gifts in the church, but gifts are given to the staff at the church. A common meal is also served at the party.
“We have curry, hamburgers and bread after the end of the show,” said Dara, explaining that the food did not represent anything in a religious way.
The celebration for Cambodian Christians is a bit different from that in other countries.
On the other hand, in some countries many people set up a Christmas tree, decorate their houses and visit family and friends because in the northern hemisphere it’s a winter celebration and a holiday when they can gather together and have parties.
Dennis Drenner, a photographer who is living in Florida in the US, said: “I usually go to my parents’ house for Christmas. This year I will be alone with my wife at a rented house in Florida, but my parents will come and celebrate with me a few weeks later.
“I can tell you that my family typically gets together for breakfast and exchanges gifts, which are typically stored under the Christmas tree. Most of the excitement centres around the children, who get the most gifts and are most excited about them.
“Some years we will go to another relative’s house and repeat the process over lunch or dinner. In sum, lots of food and lots of presents.”
Similarly, Francois Henric, 55, a mathematics teacher who is living in Toulouse in the south of France, said: “Normally, people celebrate Christmas with their family. They have dinner together, on the evening of the 24th or on 25th at midday, at home, rarely in restaurants, because it’s too expensive.
“Of course, they offer gifts, mainly to the children. If they have dinner on the 24th, they offer them just before or after eating. If they have lunch on 25th, they offer them to their children early in the morning.
“Usually, people make decorations (for the Christmas tree, for example) when they have children. Some Christians make also a ‘crèche’ near the Christmas tree which represents the birth of Jésus-Christ in a cowshed.”
Asked what Christmas is a celebration of, Henric defines it as “a special time to meet friends and mainly family, to be happy with them”.
However, he celebrates Christmas with friends and their families because he “has nearly no more family”, and this is the reason why he does not decorate his house.
“The main activity that I shall do with my friends is eating. We shall meet together on the 24th,” he said.
Likewise Alfonso Rodriguez, who is from Dallas, Texas. He said his entire family likes to gather at his grandparents’ house the day before Christmas, on Christmas Eve.
“We have dinner and enjoy the time together. After dinner, most of us go to church,” said Rodriguez.
“Many people go to church the day before Christmas and the day of Christmas. Once we come back from church, we stay up till midnight.
“It is kind of like New Year. When it turns midnight, it is officially Christmas day. We celebrate the birth of Jesus and then open gifts.”
The special food for him on Christmas day is tamales, a Mexican dish which is wrapped with corn husk, dough and meat.
A South Korean Catholic, Woo Kyong Jung, celebrates her Christmas in church and spends the holiday with her family.
“I do not buy a Christmas tree and usually Christmas trees are bought by families who have a child or children or some people who love decorating,” she said, adding that couples in their 20s love spending their time mostly exchanging gifts.
Most Cambodians are Buddhist, but they still celebrate Christmas with their friends. They start giving gifts to their friends or lovers in the middle of December or sometimes have a game of exchanging gifts in which they do a lucky draw to pick up the gifts.
Christmas cards are also exchanged among young people and children. For the most part, they have their celebrations on the 23rd, 24th and 25th.
Also, private schools and institutes and super malls erect their Christmas trees inside the buildings and put presents all around.