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 travellers celebrating Christmas together
Me and a bunch of travellers 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!

This post was originally published in
About Cez

I'm a tramp from Poland, travelling the world for less than $25 a day. I left my comfort zone in 2011 with just $400 and one-way ticket to Asia. Still going and blogging. Follow me on my journey by clicking on the buttons below.


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32 Comments

    • Hey Audrey,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, they were quite different, but one thing in common – they were special. How did you spend your Christmas in Korea?

      Happy New Year and travels,
      Cez

  • Ciao Cez,
    we understand you perfectly because we spent our Christmas away from home in Taiwan and, as you said, it was a day like another for the locals.
    People kept working, children went to school, it was nothing special and not a big deal like we are used to.

    While in Japan we heard that people usually go to KFC to celebrate Christmas, so we decide to do the same.. needless to say that it hasn’t been a great one like Agness’ or even yours.

    Who knows where we’ll be next year?

    • Ciao Franca,

      They like to say in Asia: “same same …. but different”. I think it’s the best description of the Christmas away from home. It’s still the time when you call them and your thoughts are with them, but you are certainly missing out on food :) I’m sure that even though you were in KFC, you still had a great time because you were there together. I think I missed Agness the most, so if she was here it would be much more homely.

      Well, next year I want to be in Poland for Christmas. I don’t think I can be sure, but that’s the plan. Will see how it goes. Wherever you are next year, I hope you’re going to be happy and surrounded by amazing people.

      Good luck in 2013!
      Cez

  • I’ve celebrated the past 4 Christmas’ with champagne breakfasts and bbqs, swimming at the beach and enjoying all that is summer – completley opposite to what I was used to in Canada! However, my first Christmas, I happened to spend with a girl from Poland. She taught us to make perogies from scratch just as her family would do at Christmas. It was quite fun to experience traditions and a memory I’ll always treasure.

    Happy New Year to you both!

    • I can see why this post has brought you some memories, there’s both hot weather and pierogies in it :) I think you can kind of call New Zealand your home after few years.

      Happy New Year to you too and have a great time when your grandma visits you! All the best in 2013 !

  • It is interesting to see how Christmas is celebrated elsewhere. Mine was spent at home in England. Work makes its difficult to go and travel. Happy travels in 2013 for the pair of you.

    • Thanks Steve. Christmas at home in England sounds good, hope you had an amazing time. Yeah, work and travel is a problem unless you make travel your work :)

  • That is a lovely contrast of the two celebrations Cez. I think for most people Christmas means spending time with family, it doesn’t have to be at home but together.

    I’m sorry to hear that you found it so difficult being away from your family. You did find people in a similar position which can provide comfort and mutual support. It does look as though you had a good time though.

    I’m not sure about that drink but I do have a similar t-shirt! :-)

    Great post again. How are the two of you celebrating New Year?

    • Thanks a lot! I felt sorry to hear how much Cez missed home, but he didn’t want to go with me :( Buuuu :):). Being in Asia for Christmas might be depressing, but Cez looked happy thanks to the awesome people he met in a hostel in Siem Reap. I’m celebrating New Year with two of my friends who just moved in together. It’s gonna be nice and we will finally catch up. I’m doing some baking tomorrow. I’m back in Bangkok on Thursday so that is going to be my last night out :) Cez is participating in a typical Khmer New Year party in Siem Reap with his friends – should be good as well. We will see :) How about you? Any plans?

  • Well, we usually celebrate Christmas in the UK on December 25th and Christmas in Russia on the 7th of January :-) This year though we are celebrating both Christmas Days in Russia :-) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

    • Christmas in UK and Russian ;-)? I like the idea of double Christmas in two different countries. Hope you had a great time and have a blast in Russia. Happy New Year and hope all your dreams will come true. Best wishes from Cambodia and Poland!

  • Love the two comparisons – I think it makes people understand the less glamorous side of travelling for a while, especially the many of us who celebrate Christmas and how it’s a very family orientated celebration. If you are the other side of the world having a good time, people often forget about these very important things that make travelling difficult sometimes. Think this captures the emotions brilliantly.

    I enjoyed Christmas in New Zealand this year, although all the locals were upset that the weather meant they couldn’t spend it on the beach, but the weather for Christmas here is always hit and miss apparently!
    Hopefully will be spending Christmas 2013 here, but if not here, then I would like to have it at home too :)

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • That’s right Sarah. We often forget about these little important things that make travelling so tough sometimes. Hopefully, we will celebrate next Christmas together in Poland, but you know it’s hard to say living the lives of nomads. I’m so glad you enjoyed Christmas in New Zealand. I’ve seen all photos you posted on Facebook and they are impressive. The weather was great in my opinion in comparison to freezing Poland :).Happy New Year and have a lovely party :):) Kisses x

  • This was such an interesting read on the contrasts of how the two of you spent your Christmas. I can’t imagine being away from my family during this time of your but glad that you made the most of it, Cez. So glad you were with your family, Agness. Best wishes to the both of you in 2013!

    • Thank you Mary. I can’t imagine next Christmas without my family either. We also wish you a Happy New Year hoping it’s gonna be much better than 2012 with more adventures :):) x

  • Both look like pretty good Christmases to me. We always do the family thing on Christmas- Christmas Eve and early morning at my wife’s parents, then over to my parents for the afternoon and evening. It would feel really weird for me to not spend Christmas with my family.

    • Sounds like perfect Christmas to me :) So happy for you Erik. I have the same feelings now – would not imagine my next Christmas without my family, will do my best to come to Poland next year :):)

  • What a contrast! It’s a shame you didn’t spend it with your family Cez, I have been doing that for two years in a row living in Europe away from my usual tropical Christmas in Indonesia :), but it’s always nice to spend it with friends.
    And I want that yummy Makowiec from Agness! Looks really good and I love Polish food :D

    • Thanks for stopping by Aggy. I know this feeling as I have been doing that for nearly for 5 years in a row travelling firstly in Europe, then in China, but it felt great to be back home for Christmas this year. The makowiec’s been the best Christmas cake ever. Have you ever been to Poland? If not, you are warmly welcome, the food is amazing ;-)

  • Christmas in Cambodia sounds a lot like Christmas in Australia – always hard for me to get into the spirit when we’re there for the holidays because of the weather. I did not grow up with it so it’s very strange for me. I am part Polish so the Polish Christmas looks more like what I’m used to =)

    • Never been to Australia but would love to spend Christmas there. Your travel companion mentioned before you are partly Polish, great to hear that! Hope you guys enjoyed the Christmas together.

  • Hi Agness,
    May I ask you for your recipe for the Makowiec.
    I tasted one that looks just like yours in a restaurant here in Canada and I would love to try and bake one…

    Thanks a lot!

    Cheers,
    Annie, Granby (Canada)

      • Hi again Agness,
        I was expecting the cake to be layered, not rolled… Your pictures do look as though it’s layered, not??

        Thanks,
        Annie

      • The traditional Makowiec should be rolled indeed, but mine was layered because my grandmother did not have roll-shaped baking form to make it look rolled, so we baked it in a normal square-shaped baking form like a cheesecake. Tastes the same though! You should definitely make it rolled :-) it looks much better this way.

  • One Christmas it would be great for us all to do a comparative post one Christmas – we’ll see Christmas in all the different countries where we are… of course this would require quite a bit of coordination…

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