Confession: I’ve been a grinch all December this year.
It’s just so hard to get into the holiday spirit when… ummm… there isn’t any at all. The first half of December was spent in hot and very un-festive Thailand. Then we got to Siem Reap, and I was happy to see lights and trees outside of hotels/restaurants. Looks like the Christmas spirit is alive and well here!
But as the days went on, it still didn’t really feel like Christmas. Christmas is red stockings and golden lights, hot chocolate and candy canes, wreaths on doors and glittery storefronts. It’s 24/7 Christmas songs on the radio and 24/7 of A Christmas Story on TV. It’s ugly sweaters, mall Santas, and stupid games at work. It’s Chinese hot pot with my family and Polish pierogis with D’s. Even though SoCal doesn’t get a white Christmas, it’s still plenty festive and full of a happy energy.
But here, though I give them props for trying, there are none of those nuances that really make Christmas, well, Christmas.
And I’m not gonna lie: during holiday season, it’s hard being in a foreign country on the other side of Earth, with no other loved ones near by, remotely looking at everyone else’s colorful holidays displayed on your computer screen.
So basically, I’ve been jealously reading all my blogger friends’ posts of unbelievably cute European Christmas markets and festive events, while resigning myself to a normal, uneventful holiday (…of just hanging out in Cambodia. Poor me, I know.)
So even when our AirBnB host, Thony, invited us to have dinner on Christmas Eve, I didn’t expect a special occasion.
Oh boy, this just proved that there is still a lot about Cambodia (which is already a land of mystery to me) to be learned. It never fails to surprise me.
The huge house in the picture above looks glorious, but we are actually just renting one room in it. And this is Thony’s first year opening up his house to tourists. On the evening of the dinner, we walked down from our room to the front garden, and met the other guests: another renter couple from France and some of Thony’s family members, including one who just flew in from Switzerland. It was a small intimate gathering.
Like any good party, the evening started off with drinks and appetizers. What was on the menu?
Is all of this sounding a little… French to you??
I was amazed. Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped to stereotypes and thought it’d be spring rolls and Angkor beer, but I certainly did not expect it to be so heavily French.
And here’s the real clincher: everyone was also conversing in French. In French! Fluently!! Between the French renters and Thony’s Khmer family, it seemed that French was the common language. This left D and me out of the loop a bit (as our only-English-speaking tongue was definitely the minority there), but we were happy to observe and bombard Thony with a million questions on Khmer culture.
Apparently, yes, Cambodians do celebrate Christmas due to the old French influence, and many families choose to celebrate it French style. We’re even having the traditional foods that the French eat during the Christmas season, like foie gras. And as for the fluency in French? French was a required subject in school for the older generations (the younger generations learn English, and now even Chinese).
“So what’s for the main course?” we asked Thony.
“Italian,” he replied, chuckling. This just keeps on getting more awesome!!
If I stepped back and looked at the scene as an outsider, I would have laughed. There we were in Cambodia… on a breezeless and humid evening, sipping on Kir Royale and munching on foie gras. Soft American holiday music drifted from the speakers as a videotape of Thony’s daughter’s very Cambodian wedding flashed from a flat-screen. Across the table were two Khmers having a conversation in rapid French, instead of in their native tongue.
It’s a strange world we live in.
Maybe it was the hot night, or maybe it was too many drinks, but I felt a warm glow spreading within me. Under the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree, surrounded by our amazing host family and one-night-only friends, I felt so grateful to have been given a home away from home for the holidays.
And so, it was with a Cambodian family’s warm invite, good conversation, and a few strong glasses of French aperitifs, that this Grinch finally found the Christmas spirit.
How and where did you all celebrate your Christmas?
Linking up with SundayTraveler with Pack Me To and others.