Christmas is a special time for many people around the world. It’s a Christian celebration, but because of the influence of TV (mostly American) it’s common to see “Merry Christmas” everywhere you go, even where the dominant religion is different.
I was surrounded by people who also spent the day way from home – in Cambodia.
Our experiences are different and we both would like to share them here.
Christmas in Cambodia
On the 24th of December, the day in Siem Reap, was just about the same as any other day. Hot, sunny, dry and nobody has even thought of possibility the snow would come, something I grew to expect in Poland on this date.
For many it would be great, and it certainly is not to freeze, but on this particular day, I missed the cold and white weather. It wasn’t the only thing I missed. My family gathered for plentiful of food, all together, all happy, all to put on some weight and share presents. I didn’t expect to miss them so badly. It struck me like lightning, and from now on I promised myself to go home for Christmas every year. It’s absolutely necessary.
Since Khmers (Cambodian people) are mostly Buddhists, it’s a day like any other for them. Only tuk tuk drivers seemed to be into the whole Christmas stuff. Wherever you go you can hear “Merry Christmas Sir, tuk tuk?” or “Happy Christmas, tuk tuk?”. Yes, some were disguised as Santa (hat only).
At 11pm I started calling my family, it was the moment I was waiting for all day. It was 5pm in Poland and 4pm in UK. I had called few places and was cheered up by kind words, Christmas wishes, voices of the loved ones and sights of their faces and the food they had. Skype, thank you for making our lives on the road that much easier!
Thankfully, I was not alone in Siem Reap, I was surrounded by great bunch of people, all in similar position to me. All of us wanted to enjoy companionship of others and some kind of Christmas Eve celebration.
Carla, cheerful Brazilian girl I met in Laos, organised the whole evening together with her friends. She told me about a Secret Santa – Brazilian style! There’s no need to know the person you’re buying a present for, so the present has to be good for either gender.
All of the presents land underneath a Christmas tree, all nicely packed and just like at home. Then everyone who takes part has to write their name on a piece of paper, which will be drawn later. The person who’s drawn then has a choice: to pick up and unpack a new present or to “steal” one from someone who had one before them.
If your present was “stolen” from you, you can either “steal” one from someone else or pick up a new one. Of course the first person has no choice and the last one is in the best position. This twist makes it so much more fun.
When my time came, I have picked up a new present and unwrapped a yellow hammock and a yellow angry birds watch (yes, for kids). I don’t have a watch, and I loved both presents. It’s cool to wear kids’ stuff, but only when you have a story to tell about it. Buying it myself is not an option (but I’m considering it :D ).
Yet, I wasn’t the only one who liked my present and it soon changed owners. Ti took it from me and was the first person to “steal” a present. Loads of laughter accompanied this “crime”.
In return I had an option of taking someone’s gift or getting a new one. I chose the latter. This time I got a bottle of alcohol with cobra and scorpion inside. We are not sure whether it is rice wine or whiskey, but we know it’s very strong. In addition some claim it helps men in similar way the viagra does. Everyone who dared had a sip or two.
Ti, just like me, didn’t have a chance to enjoy his present for long. This time it was taken by Carla, who was drawn as last (she was also the person who drew the names, coincidence? hehehe). If you meet a lovely girl from Brazil who wears a yellow watch with angry birds, the chances are it’s Carla.
The whole event started just after midnight and by 1am everyone was heading for Pub Street, to celebrate the boxing day with a bucket of whiskey, or more. I have not joined, I wouldn’t want to drink on Christmas.
Christmas in Poland
Well, Agness was in quite the opposite situation. She had all the things I dreamed to have during the Christmas holidays: Christmas tree, snow, family around and the traditional Polish food on the Christmas table.
She celebrated Christmas in a very traditional way – starting from cleaning and baking and ending up in the church singing Christmas songs.
*Makowiec is a poppy seed pastry that is traditional in Poland, always eaten during the Christmas. It consists of a roll of sweet yeast bread with a very dense, rich, bittersweet filling of poppy seeds. It usually has a walnut roll shape, but Agness baked it in a different way, but had the same taste (according to Agness).
It is very typical that the preparations for Christmas in Poland begin many days before the actual celebration. People start cleaning their houses two weeks before the Christmas Eve, making sure everything is perfect (it is commonly believed that if a house is dirty on Christmas Eve, it will remain dirty all next year) and they start baking at least a week in advance.
Cooking and baking is crucial when getting ready for Christmas. The more you eat, the better! We also believe that baking, cooking and then eating brings family together.
When all the baking was done, Agness decorated some Christmas trees at her granny’s place and in her own apartment. They all looked stunning to me.
She also did not forget about Christmas presents. All she did all afternoon on Christmas Eve was wrapping presents for everyone.
I think the most important factor to Agness’s happiness was that she was surrounded by family and friends. She’s been away for more than two years and missed home badly and this year was her first Christmas at home since 2008. She could catch up with her cuisines, aunties and uncles as well as her lovely granny.
What I love and missed the most this year was a perfect looking Christmas table with delicious food and my family. Agness had it all this year. Her family gathered together around the table to pray, then they wished themselves all the best and sat down to have a dinner.
Polish customs, especially at Christmas time, are both beautiful and meaningful. I am simply jealous of Agness being home for Christmas and regret not going with her. As you can see, our Christmas differed a lot, but we both tried to make this day as special as possible and feel the Christmas spirit!