Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Cambodia

This is our third time volunteering in Cambodia, but the first time we've spent Christmas here.  Late in September, we lucked into a really good deal on flights for December 6th, and grabbed at the chance to save big without giving much thought to the fall-out. 

Leaving so early meant we had three weeks less to close up the house, make all our arrangements, and get all our Christmas gifts wrapped and delivered.  We had our 'family Christmas' in mid-November, with turkey and prezzies, and I kept telling myself it was OK....that Christmas is all about the feeling, not necessarily about the day.   So when we arrived here in Cambodia, I was OK with being in a tropical climate with palm trees, in a Buddhist country where Christmas is not celebrated, because I told myself I'd already had my Christmas.  Yet from the day we arrived, everywhere we looked there were vestiges of Christmas - blinking Christmas lights and tacky tinsel trees and Christmas carols in the lobby -.  And still I was OK with that..... I really was..... until the day before Christmas, when my daughter emailed me a couple of pictures.... of her at age 4, surrounded by presents....

.... and one of her spending this Christmas with her aunt and her 104-year-old Grandpa....

After seeing those pics, and reading all the comments from my friends about how they were spending their Christmas with family and having turkey dinners and loads of presents, I admit it.... I was filled with pangs of longing for the good old days.... and a tear or two came to my eyes. 

But that was Christmas morning.... Little did I know what lay in store for me that afternoon....

As soon as we arrived in Cambodia, we'd been enlisted by the Honour Village crew to help out at their annual Christmas party.  Staff and volunteers alike were focused on the afternoon of December 25th, when more than 200 children would arrive from the village and descend on the premises for an afternoon of fun and games, food and prizes.  From the outset, a lot of organization went into it, and it was obvious that this would be quite an event, but until I experienced it, I had no idea how big it really would be.  We invited some of our friends to come out and help, and even a few tourists arrived to pitch in.  We needed all hands on deck, and everyone was kept busy for the entire afternoon.

The main building was festooned with decorations

The kitchen staff prepared busily for the feast

Gordon had blown up hundreds of balloons,
and filled several hundred more with water...

The big sound system arrived

Children sang songs while they waited for the crowds to arrive

Throngs of village children arrived - probably 200 or more

Squeals of delight playing musical chairs

The battle for the last chair when the music stopped

Limbo competition

'Sleeping Lions' game.  You move, you're OUT!

Sack races, three legged races, all sorts of field games....

Burst the balloon tied to your opponent's leg. 
Last one left with a balloon tied to their leg wins!

Faces powdered with flour!

Apsara dance demonstration

Honour Village kids performing traditional Cambodian dance

Taking a bow

Chhunly was such an enthuisiastic announcer!

Passing out water balloons while Chhunly directs the crowd

Long line-ups for food

A big baguette with yummy minced pork filling

This little guy collected up everyone's crusts....
Yummm...the best part !! 

Lining up for prizes after dinner
We left when the sun was low in the sky.....
exhausted from a day filled with fun and joy.....
.....a day when we'd given it our all...... 
....and I was sincerely happy.....
 I believe everyone present experienced the true meaning of Christmas that day....
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

1 comment:

  1. Attending an Episcopalian Christmas Service (for children, held on Christmas Eve in a kid-friendly and slightly abbreviated fashion) I heard the tale of Jesus and the Three Wise Men - not for the first time and probably not for the last :)

    However, what made this telling remarkable is that the Minister gathered all the children in from of the chancel and told them that the reason we give presents to each other is the same reason that the Three Wise Men gave Jesus presents, from an undeniable outpouring of Love and Respect.

    Naturally, Santa and his perennial gift-giving comes into it because he is the patron Saint of children and because he sees Jesus in all of of us.

    After hearing this and pondering it awhile, I have to admit that I too felt the Christmas Spirit transforming some of the cynicism that I had unconsciously generated in regards to this joyous and family-oriented Holy Day.