Already here and gone — so fast. Christmas in Cambodia had some familiar feelings and a lot of new ones. It also has coincided roughly with our three month mark in country, which is when most people will tell you that culture shock sets in with full force.
Culture shock is difficult to describe if you haven’t experienced it yourself. In short, all of the subconscious and conscious changes in your daily life eventually add up and break through to really affect your emotions. It seems everyone reacts to it differently — for us, I think our primary reaction has been tiredness. But it’s also amplified the differences in Christmas celebrations — for better or worse.
On the familiar side, we were able to run down to a local shop (the school supplies place, because why not?) and pick up some decorations. We set up a tree — plugging in the lights are now the first thing on the to-do list each morning. We put out some tinsel and ornaments. And to top it all off — Laura found a nativity scene made from a coconut shell.
Of course, the weather has been much different than what we’re used to from Colorado. Not a hint of snow here. But it’s surprising how quickly our bodies have acclimated to Cambodia. We actually had a few nights in the past weeks where we’ve been shivering cold and needing to bring out extra blankets! (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the curious)
Christmas gift exchanges (the variety where participants choose to either unwrap gifts or steal them from others) take on their own flavor here. We’ve been part of a couple between our teammates and church friends. Chocolates are a big hit, of course. Some people bring crafts or home decorations. But the star of the show?
Not kidding here. Ziploc bags are so commonly used among the expat community but are very expensive (at least the brand name ones with the best zippers and thickest plastic). Better grab those fast!
Christmas programs also took on some changes (at least the one at our church!). No choirs here, no poinsettias — instead the church rented out a local soccer complex to put on a unique presentation. Playing to the young audience (many in their teens and 20s), the performance mashed-up pop culture references (from Frozen to Bohemian Rhapsody) with dances and lyrics rewritten to tell the Christmas story.
But at the end of it all, despite all the changes and differences, the most important part of Christmas — Immanuel, God with us — remains just as powerful as it has for thousands of years.