A Cambodian Kingdom of (winter) Wonder(land)…
Majestic calm palm trees, glistening clear blue swimming pools and skies that match, constant warm temperatures and tropical humidity don’t normally conjure up images of festive celebrations, but here in Cambodia we’re not going to miss out on a potential for a party, no sir — not even though it is the busiest time of the year for the bulging tourism industry that dominates this temple town in North West Cambodia.
To quote a phrase by a resident expat Entomologist and land mine expert (who would be my first choice as Scrooge in a local amateur pantomime adaption by the way): “Cambodia is a country with an overwhelming majority population of Buddhists, that for some reason celebrate a Christian festival, using Hindu iconography in the form of Angkor Wat as a symbol of the wish to participate”. This does pretty much sum up the fun and open thinking attitude here towards this, considered by some to be, the most wonderful time of the year.
What started out as a couple of foreign-managed hotels stringing a few lights to the mango trees around the pool, has developed into a type of annual competition as to who can outdo the other with an array of actually quite beautiful displays of decorations and homages to the festive season. Though the poor guy dressed as Father Christmas outside our one downtown department store in full Santa regalia drew the short straw as the mercury hits 88 Degrees F and ample humid today! Some here have taken colourful inspiration from the gaudier elements of the so-called developed world, but each to ones own I suppose….
Cambodians love to party and as the country drags the poverty line all too slowly in an upward trajectory, the people make sure that National holidays, religious days, commemoration days, water festivals, damn even ploughing festivals, are all revered, celebrated and enjoyed for the maximum amount of time, in both good humour and exuberance. Sure, not to the longevity levels of the UK or USA where festive now dominates a twelfth of the year at the minimum (I counted the word “Christmas” eleven times in two minutes on the radio from a London-based channel yesterday, in between another non-stop carol and jingling segue and / or endless sound-bite-rife section referencing the end of the calendar year). But proportionally here, Christmas is punching well above it’s weight in the Kingdom of Wonder. Last year’s Secret Santa in our office was one of the most fun days of the year as imaginative and hilarious gifts were mockingly exchanged, I hear in some other offices around town things nearly got out of hand as the shrieking excitement grew and grew around the season of giving!
Whilst I see many other country’s in this part of the world moving to reject overseas cultural celebrations in favour of a more nationalistic sense of independence – and I’m all for retaining national identity of course —but feel as many of us do that the global community is one we can draw from, rather than push back. Much as 2016 will be remembered for the year the US and UK seemed to be moving back toward revelling more in home grown past glories in some ways, Cambodia moves forward to embrace Christmas like it does everything else that gets thrown at it: with gusto, good humour, grace and a smile.
So from seeing snowmen and penguins on people’s desks who have never seen snow, to Santa hats being worn by families of five aboard motorbikes, Cambodia loves Christmas!
As ABOUTAsia’s Business Development maven, Richard manages to keep a finger on the pulse of Southeast Asia as he splits his time between London, Siem Reap, and Hoi An