Christmas in Cambodia


It’s currently 31 degrees outside and I’m finding it hard to feel festive. There are some impressive (or gaudy) decorations at some of the hotels and there are festive flavoured ice coffees at Costa, but otherwise it feels distinctly summery. It’s a bit difficult to believe it’s actually Christmas Day. This is the excuse (as well has having a spell of illness and general busyness) for not having written my Christmas cards yet. That’s this evening’s job! (Even if I don’t send them until July, I’m going to send them. They’ll either be the world’s latest or earliest Christmas cards at this rate.)

However, it’s actually been quite nice not to have the crazy mania that surrounds Christmas. No wondering how to squeeze in all the fraught family visits, the panic shopping, or the manic decorating. It’s given me the opportunity to think about what Christmas really means to me and what is the cultural baggage we put on the 25 or so day season of advent (which is getting longer every year!).

To me, Christmas isn’t about tinsel and baubles, good food, carols, church services, presents or even friends and family. These things are great, of course. But these are all bolt ons, most of them with dubious, forgotten symbolism (if not completely pagan in origin). I’m currently 6000 miles away from all my family; I have no Christmas decorations up at home and I’m currently listening to a particularly peculiar Christmas song medley mash-up in Costa (“I wanna wihss you a mahwee Chwismas…”). This doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Christmas, despite being devoid of most of the things we associate with it.

In fact, it’s given me the opportunity to reflect what is important about Christmas to me and what is the reason for the season. It’s about joy and hope and life. It’s about when God chose to implement a world-wide rescue plan. This plan didn’t involve him coming as a muscle-bound Thor-like superhero, with mighty powers and a booming voice. Instead, he came as a baby to the obscurity of an unknown and unimportant carpenter’s family in the backward backwaters of the mighty Roman Empire. The story is both ordinary and spectacular. Heaven and earth collided. There were angels and divine miracles. There were shepherds and a census. (There is nothing less exciting and more human than a census. Imaging going to a Hollywood studio and saying, “I’ve got a great idea for a new film. It starts with a census…”) And it was this, the sublime and ridiculous mingled together, that set the backdrop for the most important story of mankind.

It also got me thinking. Why is Christmas Day so special? Why do we have to wait until December to celebrate Jesus’ life? Surely the story of joy and hope and life should be something that Christians celebrate and live out everyday? To sound clichéd, Christ is for life, not just for Christmas.

So I hope you have a happy Christmas, but I also pray that you get to know and experience the joy, hope and life that comes through the miracle that was the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. Not just on 25th December either, but for the rest of your life.