Christmas in Cambodia

Welcome back loyal readers. I hope that you haven’t forgotten about me in my absence. If you are a first time reader, please scroll down and take a look at how my first few months have been so far.

Over the weekend of December 12th and 13th the church I am living at and volunteering for celebrated Christmas. It was a truly unique and memorable experience that I will not forget. On Saturday our festivities started with a fun fair for the kids in the neighborhood. Nearly 100 children from around the area came out to play some games, eat some candy canes, and enjoy some Singapore curry. It is common that over holidays (including Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year) the Cambodian people eat curry. The reason it was Singapore curry is that we had a large group of people visiting from our partner church in Singapore. They were the ones that helped organize all the games as well for the event. It was much like a school carnival and had the same sort of feel reminding me of my elementary school gatherings. My main job was to take a few pictures for the church and just be there for support. So naturally I walked around with my camera, tested out some of the games, ate my fair share of candy canes and had some fun with the kids who were there. Overall the event was full of prize drawings, candy consumption and all around fun.

On Sunday morning we had a Christmas service during our typical Sunday morning service time. A large change for me this year has been adjusting to not understanding a majority of what is going on in the service. The songs are in Khmer, the sermon is in Khmer and other than the parts I can recite in English I am mostly in a place of trying to decipher a message in a language I am still unfamiliar with. However, sometimes the sermon is translated for the various volunteer groups that worship with us. Being that the group was from Singapore the sermon was translated to Chinese, putting me in the increasingly more common position of being surrounded by languages that I don’t understand. One positive to hearing a language you truly don’t know though is that it makes you appreciate the amount of language you might already know of another language. Every time I hear Chinese, Thai, Lao, Filipino or any other language that might be spoken in this Asian language epicenter that is Phnom Penh I am reminded that I actually am starting to know a lot more Khmer that I think.

After the Christmas service there was brief period for lunch and then it was time to set up for our Christmas event that we were putting on in the afternoon that day. I would describe it much like a concert or performance in a way. In Cambodia where less than 2% of the population is Christian many churches see Christmas as a chance for evangelism and thus do large events for the community like this. There was dancing and singing and even a skit performed on stage. There was a short sermon done by the one of the Pastors that I am sure was related to Christmas, although there is no way for me to really be sure because like usual it was all in Khmer. It was a joy to see the students from the hostel take a large role in the event from designating MC’s to taking the lead on all the music and the skit they all showed great pride in what they performed. The people from the community came in bunches throughout and almost every table that was set up for the event was filled. A few games were played including one that I was forced into being a part of. I walked up onto stage and attempted to figure out the game as everyone laughed and spoke in Khmer. When the game started I tried my best to play in Khmer but was quickly given the opportunity to play in English. The game works like so: the leader tries to get you to answer a question and all the person responding has to do is not answer any of the questions asked, simple enough. I really liked the game and did pretty well but ended up choking up on my own words in the end. It was fun and all the people watching were laughing at me so I joined in and laughed at myself. After the games it was time for dinner. Dinner in Cambodia was a chicken stir fry of sorts on rice. It was delicious and I had a couple plates worth. Afterwards some of the students gave out some gifts and played a few games with the kids. Then came my favorite part of any Khmer celebration… Dancing!

If you don’t know already I love to dance! I consider myself pretty well coordinated in this category and I go hard. Something that the people of Cambodia have really come to appreciate. Throughout the night many a compliments were donned on me for my dancing abilities. Khmer dances are simple. Place some sort of plant in the center of the dance floor (in this case we used the Christmas tree set up on a table) and if a Khmer song comes on you do a sort of two step jig in a circle around the middle. If a song from the west comes on you dance in small circles however you want. There is one song that also plays that has its own type of group dance that I have been trying to figure out. We danced for a close to five hours straight taking brief breaks for hydration and by the end I was a sweaty dusty mess.

From the weather to the date of celebration to the food and language everything about Christmas was different for me this year. Something I wouldn’t trade for anything at this point. I relish in the opportunities to experience new and exciting things and I am fortunate enough to be doing that every single day here in Cambodia. This year my Christmas was all about cultural immersion. I thrust myself into the pageantry and tradition of a culture half way around the world from my home nation. It was a magical evening and was truly one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had since being here in Cambodia. To everyone reading this I wish you a Merry Christmas, I know mine was.

I hope to somehow add videos but at this point in time don’t seem to have that ability… Will hopefully figure this out soon.

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