Young Cambodians are beginning to embrace Christmas—usually celebrated with an exchange of gifts between friends and family—and shop owners in Phnom Penh are reaping the benefits.
Penh Nimol, owner of Happy Souvenir Shop, said she has more customers than usual these days because of Christmas shoppers.
“They like to buy watches, rings, perfume and especially stuffed bears,” Penh Nimol said. “And we give discounts to our clients during the Christmas season, so many Phnom Penh residents, especially students, will come to my shop to buy presents for their friends.”
Hun Solika, 19, a student at Wat Koh High School, is one of those shoppers. She said her friends celebrate the holiday each year and even host a small party in their classroom.
“I often go to the souvenir shop to find gifts for my friends and family,” said Long Try, 23, a student at Wen Len University. “My parents and younger sister were very surprised when they first saw the presents I got them.”
Cambodian-American Tan Sonic, 31, lived in the US for nearly 20 years and recently returned to Cambodia. “I’ve seen many Cambodians hold Christmas Day but the majority of them don’t understand what they are holding it for,” he said. “Christmas Day is a ceremony for Christians, not for Buddhists, because it is a day of Jesus’ birthday.”
Ea Mora, 45, agreed. “I’m Buddhist, so it is not important for me to hold Christmas Day,” he said. “I’ve noticed only the young people like to get into foreign ceremonies like Christmas and Valentine’s Day—elder people ignore that. But my children are preparing a Christmas tree in their room and asking for presents.”
Some merrymakers insist that activities from both the Buddhist and Christian religions should be enjoyed. “We look like frogs whenever we obey one religion and don’t listen to another,” said Lang Sina, 18. “We are still Buddhist even though we get into Christmas. Holding that day does not mean we forget Buddhism and select the Christian religion.”