My second Christmas in Cambodia is coming up in a few days. I thought I’d be going home for the holidays this year, but other responsibilities intervened, and now I’m spending another December 25th in Phnom Penh.
Christmas is just a day, and furthermore, a religous holiday celebrating a religious belief I don’t adhere to – but my family’s secular Christmases are always pretty good fun. I mostly miss cooking inordinate amounts of unhealthy food and uncorking a lot of high-end champagne, under the all-powerful and all-encompassing pretense of It’s the Holidays, Dammit.
Shut up and drink your champagne and eat your prime rib, your left-overs, the candy your parents were kind enough to hide in your stocking even you were well past your sell-by date and should have known better.
There was also the drive-into San Francisco either a couple of days before or after Christmas – this a tradition I am fully in favor of, crowds in Union Square and overpriced household goods be damned, in the grandest tradition of smushing one’s face against the Williama’s Sonoma display and complaining about the fact that the department stores have done a lousy job with their blow-out display windows for a while now, which can be blamed on the recession.
Back in the days when I used to want cooking goods for Christmas – having had no kitchen for a year and a half, it’s a bit more of a hazy concept, like a sort of vestigal limb, if a skill can be called “vestigal.” These San Francisco holiday visits would usually end in Chinese food somewhere in the vicinity of Chinatown, which had red and gold trim and was sort of Christmasy no-matter what time of year it was, what with all the sparkly lights.
Feels a lot less like Christmas here this year than last year. Not for lack of trying on Cambodia’s part. Even as compared to last year, the decorations and the tinsel and the trees and the Santa outfits and everything else are all stepped up. Santa visits children outside the Canon store on Sihanouk, I swear to God the gigantic inflatable Santa on Monivong is BIGGER this year, and seemingly everybody has got a Christmas tree in their shopfront or restaurant.
The religions meet, intertwine: people loop colorful lights around the family spirit house. Christmas is a secular holiday for me and it is a secular holiday for Cambodians: this I understand. What do Cambodians do on Christmas? According to a few people I have asked, about what my family does: “We get together and we eat a lot of food, and we drink a lot. We give presents.”
It is a congenial holiday. I just got around to listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole today out of a rather faded sense of duty. I seem to be forgetting the words but it is likely I will re-learn them.
I’ll be adding photos to my Christmas in Cambodia gallery up until the day, and probably after as well.