Christmas is Cambodia is truly an experience unlike anything I had imagined (how’s that for a dramatic statement?).
First, a week before Christmas, we attended the Khmer Language School Christmas party. Let’s just say I learned a few things that night. 1.Party means, or at least suggests, dressing up. (Yes, I showed up in my dirty, casual clothes. I admit it. Not ashamed until I saw women coming in Khmer traditional dress–quite fancy) 2. Joy to the World is best sung as a rap while standing next to an ex-pat who sings with a twangy, southern accent. 3. Cambodians love cake, which means you might not get any (Jennie and I totally didn’t.). 4. A red suit and a fake beard can transform anyone, no matter the size or nationality, into Santa Clause. If it wasn’t for the heat, I would have bet the Santa’s workshop to be located in right here in Phnom Penh.
The next day, we went to the party at the center. It was amazing. The girls put on a live nativity and did a wonderful job. I would say that Mary and one of Herod’s guards could have totally won an Oscar (or Academy Award or Golden Globe? I don’t know which ones are which!) It went without a hitch, except for when one of the girls knocked over the Christmas tree….or when Boremey told the wise men (of course played by girls wearing mustaches) not to forget to shave. We played games and sang songs, and of course, laughed a lot. It was truly beautiful to be a part of Christmas there. And we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. Which made me wonder, why do we never do that in the States?
The church celebrations took place the Sunday before Christmas, with almost every church in the area holding a Christmas party and/or Christmas service. I’m talking service complete with live nativity scenes (that didn’t actually substitute for the sermon, it just added an extra hour), little kids dressed up as sheep, spotlights, and even a smoke machine. So, Jennie and I checked out two services (maybe not well thought through…) that morning–one at the Wesleyan Church and one at the New Life Fellowship Church (that I like to call the “Dancing church”–Lutherans, I sense your fear! ) After the 4 1/2 hours in church, Jennie and I took a brief lunch break before attending the Christmas party at the dancing church. And I had some cheesecake.
As far as party planning goes, Cambodians are pros. They have MC’s. Yes, that’s plural. They actually do it in pairs–one man and one woman, and they pick on each other the whole time. You know how MC’s typically just get a couple minutes between acts to try to make people laugh and provide a segue? Uh uh. Not here. They get an entire time slot, complete with vocal improv and a band. Kinda like Wayne Brady in Whose Line is it Anyway? Kinda…. So the MC’s entertained and it must have been a hilarious 45 minutes or so. I didn’t really understand what they were saying. So, halfway through, I decided to keep score. To our delight, the woman totally kicked the man’s butt. 13-8. She was sassy. We liked her.
After that the real party began. Activities for everyone to either watch or participate. Not just activities, but games with winners and losers and for the winners–prizes!!!! It was wonderful. We actually joined in. Let’s just say for one of the games, I got to be the statue of liberty (by the way, in which hand is the torch?). We also won first place. You make the connection.
Then we danced. Oh boy did we dance. We danced the Khmer dances (as best we could, looking like fools the whole time). Basically, Jennie got the hands (the most important part) figured out, and I got the feet part down. Then we danced this awesome Cambodian line dance and we shimmied. It was amazing.
Anyway, Sunday was just the beginning of our adventures in parties! Monday was decorating day for the World Hope Christmas party. I have to say, I had never heard of taking an entire day to decorate one room. It wasn’t just one or two of us either, but like 7-8 of us. First we covered the walls, then I decorated the “tree.” Jennie hung the lights. (Do not ask me how high up in the air she was or for how long, I am bound to secrecy.)
An hour or two into it, when I thought we were almost done, some staff roped a string above the room and started hanging things on it. I thought, how nice. Then two strings, then three, and soon we had a massive web with dangling things above our heads. Amazing. We not only covered the sides of the room, we covered the top as well. I was half expecting them to decorate the floor!
By the way, they decorated with lights, paper chains, and tinselly stuff, but there was no mistletoe. Apparently there’s no kissing before your married in Cambodia, so we had a mistletoe (and worry) free Christmas!
Also, we have yet to find unblinky or white lights. No, we have not been able to find blinky white lights or unblinky colored lights either. Everything is blinky and strobey and fadey and racing and seizure inducing. Also, Christmas colors in Cambodia means every color possible–sure red and green….and pink and yellow and purple and teal and gold and silver (yes together!) and amazing… There is no such thing as clashing or gaudiness either. I seriously doubt if they have those words in their language!!! For a while I started to wonder if everyone in Cambodia had autism…but it’s not quite Wildwood!
The World Hope Gang
Oh yeah, the party. Oh the party. To sum it up (read Jennie’s blog for further detail), my team beat Jennie’s team in human knot ( I believe she left out that detail.), Jennie wore superman underwear,
leave it to Jennie...
we hula-hooped (Boremey lost and cried), we limboed
Let's do the limbo rock!
we played with fruit, we had Cambodian fear-factor (involving live crabs, eels, fish, frogs, etc.), and we danced, polkaed, Chicken-danced, Irish jigged, and Khmer danced. We were exhausted.
Following that wonderful party, Jennie and I went to Cafe del Gusto, relaxed, and had cheesecake. Yes, last week involved wonderful cheesecake for me.
Then, we got up Christmas morning and got ready for our crazy party. We had a party, by the way, and we learned a couple of things, again.
1. If you invite lots of people, lots of people will come. (Jennie told two people to ask others to come to our party from the Wesleyan church (the night before we got a text that 15 Wesleyans were coming). 15+ 5 of our other friends.
3. Maybe just invite people you know.
4. When you say 2 pm, it really means 1, 2, or 4 pm.
5. If you’re not serving a meal, even if not over meal time, just say so. We definitely had 15 people expecting a meal… Fruit and cookies just didn’t quite do it!
6. If Cambodians play a hot-potato game, leave. It may involve asking/answering questions about dating.
7. When your party crashes and burns, definitely end it by asking your guy friends to put make-up on each other. It can save a day.
- “If they could see me now!”
8. Indian food and margaritas (as well as unexpected rain) are amazing destressers.
Merry Christmas and much love to all of you from hot and lovely Phnom Penh!!!