Christmas in Cambodia vs Christmas in Poland

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.

Christmas Tree

Me and Agness have spent this Christmas separately, and on different continents: Europe and Asia. While Agness enjoyed her time with her family in Poland …

Agness's family sitting together during the Christmas dinner
Agness’s family sitting together during the Christmas dinner

I was surrounded by people who also spent the day way from home – in Cambodia.

Me and a bunch of travelers celebrating Christmas together
Me and a bunch of travelers celebrating Christmas together

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.

Christmas in Cambodia
Nice and sunny weather surrounded by palm trees :)

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.

My Khmer friend's son in a Christmas mood
My Khmer friend’s son in his Christmas mood

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).

Santa helpers :)?
Khmer Santa helpers :-)

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!

Having a few drinks
Having a few drinks in a hostel during our Christmas meal. That was awful!

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.

Christmas in Cambodia
Let’s get this Christmas party started!

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.

Secret Santa visited each of us
Secret Santa visited everyone making us blissfully happy and surprised

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.

Christmas in Cambodia
Some presents made the guys feel like being 5 years old again

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.

Christmas in Cambodia
No money, no honey – true story :-)

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 ).

Christmas in Cambodia
Nice wallet

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.

Christmas in Cambodia
Girls looks a bit disappointed …

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.

Christmas in Poland
That’s how we rock

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.

Christmas mood and a beautiful Christmas tree
Just look at her and all you can see is happiness (and her Christmas tree :P)

She celebrated Christmas in a very traditional way – starting from cleaning and baking and ending up in the church singing Christmas songs.

Preparing cheesecake and Polish "Makowiec" cake for Christmas
Preparing cheesecake and Polish “makowiec”* for Christmas

*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).

Homemade makowiec and cheesecake
Homemade makowiec and cheesecake. All look delicious, huh?

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.

Many hours in the kitchen but it was worth it!

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.

Little Miss Purple
Little Miss Purple

She also did not forget about Christmas presents. All she did all afternoon on Christmas Eve was wrapping presents for everyone.

Christmas in Poland
Santa Agness making everyone happy (as always)

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.

Family reunion
Family reunion. Agness with Pawel – her cousin
Christmas in Poland
Agness and her grandma

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.

Christmas table
Christmas table prepared by Agness and her granny
Agness's family praying together
Agness’s family praying together
Agness's mom pouring some Polish borscht (barszcz) recipe includes red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables, such as carrots and celery or root parsley.
Agness’s mom pouring some Polish borscht (barszcz) consisting of red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables, such as carrots and celery or root parsley
Christmas Part 24
Cake time!

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!

How about you? Where did you spend your Christmas? At the beach, in your hometown or somewhere on the road? Share your Christmas experience with us in comments!

Share

We want you to know! Some links on this page may be affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from what you buy. 
It will never cost you extra, or make us bias, but helps us run this blog and occasionally get a good cup of coffee. 
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Cez Krol
Cez Krol
I’m always positive and never bored – there’s just so much more to see and experience! I began my journey around the world in 2011 with just $400 and one-way ticket to Asia. Still going and blogging today. You can typically spot me working on a laptop or rock climbing.
Do you want to contribute?
Publish your guest post on Etramping!