Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Cambodia 2013

Being away at Christmas can be difficult, especially when it's so far away from home. Whenever we make plans to return, we are torn between our work in Cambodia, and sharing Christmas with our families. 

For some reason, the days leading up to Christmas were particularly nostalgic and difficult for me. Perhaps it was knowing that my daughter was in a crisis situation (they were without electricity for almost 50 hours because of a big ice storm). Perhaps it was knowing that my Mom and sis-in-law were both spending Christmas at home alone. Perhaps it was because I got a taste of family Christmas last year when we had to cancel our trip. Perhaps it was because we exchanged our gifts really early this year (at the end of November), with no Christmas decorations, which felt un-Christmasy, and almost unnatural.  Whatever the reason, I just had a tougher time this year than usual.

Cambodians are Buddhist, so Christmas is not a holiday they celebrate. I must admit however, the hotels and businesses do go out of their way to make it festive for tourists.

A small part of the light display at a 'posh' hotel

There are a lot of volunteers at Honour Village right now (14 or 16 at last count). On December 18th, we all went out for a Christmas dinner at a restaurant, and even had a 'Secret Santa' gift exchange. The meal was quite good, but somehow turkey dinner just isn't the same if you don't smell the turkey roasting all day...

The best shot I could get of all the volunteers at our dinner.
Most of them are from the UK, where they have a tradition of wearing paper hats.
Susan wore her special Christmas 'ears'.

After dinner, we were entertained by one of the waiters
who has a very beautiful singing voice.
The restaurant owner is in the background.

Some of the volunteers living at our guesthouse decided to do a bit of Christmas decorating to make the place a little more festive.

I helped one of the volunteers make paper Christmas trees
to decorate the tables on the rooftop of our guesthouse.

Another view of the decorated tables.
It's an open-air restaurant with quite a view from 3 floors up.

We decorated the paper Christmas trees
with foil star stickers.
When we went for breakfast the next morning
we discovered the cooks had decorated the pole 

in the restaurant with our leftovers.
In Cambodia, nothing is ever wasted.

The owner of the guesthouse added to the festive atmosphere
by trimming the 'trees' in the lobby with flashing LED lights.
(Notice the Buddhist shrine next to the 'Christmas trees.)

It was an unexpected surprise to receive Christmas cards!

One of the volunteers saved all the Christmas
wrapping from our Secret Santa gifts,
and used it to make everyone Christmas cards.

Another volunteer bought some paper,
stickers, and tinsel, and made her own cards too.

I hadn't planned to give gifts to the volunteers for Christmas, but with everyone else getting in the spirit, I decided to everyone a little something. On December 23rd, all the volunteers in our guesthouse woke to a little 'Christmas Tree' hanging on their door knob.

I searched through my craft supplies and found
a big bag of buttons and some embroidery floss.

A small bead on top, and voila! 
A Christmas tree ornament.

I haven't started teaching sewing classes at Honour Village yet. That will probably happen in the new year. Right now they are short-handed in the English kindergarten classes, so I'm helping out there. I really love working with the little ones. 

As a special treat for Christmas day, we decided to play the party game of 'pass the parcel'. The children pass around a gift while music plays. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel unwraps one layer. The music begins and they pass the parcel again. This continues until the last layer is unwrapped and that person gets to keep the gift inside. The day before Christmas, I wrapped thirty little present.  Each present had five layers of wrapping, which is the equivalent of wrapping 150 gifts!  Thankfully, Gordon helped by cutting the scotch tape - about450 pieces.. Whew!

To photograph our handiwork, 
I arranged all the parcels on our bed 
in the shape of a Christmas tree. 

Instead of Christmas wrap, we used newspaper for the
'pass the parcel' gifts. By the time we'd finished,
my hands were pretty black... Yuk.

On Christmas eve, and Christmas day, the children from Honour Village sing carols for the guests at the Grand Soluxe Hotel in Siem Reap. Before their performance, the hotel feeds them a huge dinner. It takes a lot of volunteers to take care of 50 kids, serving them dinner, and making sure they all get to & from the bathroom without getting lost or distracted. 

Gordon was in charge of the boy's bathroom. One little boy locked himself in the stall and kept flushing the toilet, refusing to to come out. In Cambodia, most places (including Honour Village) have squat toilets that are flushed by dumping a bucket of water down the hole. This was probably the first time he'd ever seen a toilet that flushed itself when you pushed down a handle. Kids are fascinated by the simplest things. 

Lorna, one of the volunteers, is from Bermuda.
I snapped her photo in front of the big Christmas display
in the lobby of the hotel.

When we're on duty, all the volunteers
are required to wear Honour Village T-shirts.

Lorna snapped our photo too.
Either she had the shakes, or the setting on my camera
couldn't handle the flickering lights.
It's blurry, but it's the only one I have of us together so far!

Three of the volunteers dressed up as Santa and his helpers.
Of course, the kids wanted to be in the photo too!

The children sang on a big outdoor stage.
'Mother' Susan, led the choir.

I always get a big kick out of giving gifts to our Cambodian friends. They are SO appreciative of even the smallest gesture!

We brought Christmas gifts from Canada
for all the Cambodian staff at Honour Village
and the staff at our guesthouse.

To get in the Christmas mood, I brought along some festive jewellery, handmade by my sister-in-law.

My special Christmas earrings.
Snowmen for Christmas eve, and little Christmas trees
for Christmas day.

Before we come to Cambodia, we have our Christmas gift exchange in Canada. Sometimes when we're here, Christmas seems a little empty with no tree, and no gifts. It was lovely to receive a small wrapped gift from Susan, the founder of Honour Village. We saved it to open on Christmas day.

Susan bought us some pretty little china tea cups.
I will think of her and the children every time I use them.

Last night, we had a Christmas party on the rooftop restaurant for all the volunteers. Everyone brought wine. Gordon and I supplied a couple of bottles of 'cheampers' (cheap 'champers' [champagne]). We feasted on great food prepared by our Cambodian cooks, and drank out of whatever glasses the restaurant had on hand....cups, martini glasses, wine glasses and mugs. One volunteer brought a Christmas cake all the way from the UK, that she'd made herself, soaked in brandy and covered with a thick white royal icing. We sang Christmas carols, played Christmas 'Pictionary', and talked late into the evening. Sorry, no photos - I was too busy having a good time.

Although our Cambodian Christmas may have been a little short on festive decorations, celebrations and gifts by western standards, it overflowed with an outpouring of sharing and giving and love. No matter how many more Christmases I celebrate, this one will always stand out. There's no doubt in my mind that it truly is much better to give than to receive.


  1. Hi Dorothy,
    Sounds like a wonderful holiday. Christmas is about love and it sounds like you had abundance of love. Wishing you the best.

  2. Hi Dorothy - must be doing this wrong! thought I had "published" comment earlier, but doesn't seem to have come up!
    Anyway, just wanted to say loved reading about your Christmas - very different but lifelong memories. We will miss you both at the TH party on New Years Eve and look forward to our next "Over the Hill" night on your return! Lots of love, Kate & Gary xxx

  3. Ha - got the hang of it now!