Saturday, December 25, 2010


US Embassy, Phnom Penh, Christmas Eve
It was many Christmases ago, one of our earliest living in Cambodia and our Khmer maid's first working with a foreign family. Polly (the maid) knew a bit about the holiday, had seen it in movies and heard tell from friends, but had never really witnessed it up close. She explained that she figured Santa to be some sort of minor Christian deity (a neak ta of some sort) and the Christmas holiday a time of gifts and 'giant French chickens' (muong barang thom.) OK, close enough.

In the week before the holidays we put up a small Christmas tree in our apartment, hung a couple of big red Christmas stockings on wall next to the tree and tacked some garland and fairy lights around the front door. Polly seemed fascinated by the whole process, as an anthropologist might, observing and studying some exotic foreign ritual.

Christmas morning we all exchanged gifts, one small gift to me being a pair of mitt-style potholders (I like to cook.) After opening gifts and the usual Christmas morning activities, my wife and I went out to a restaurant for breakfast. Upon returning home a hour later we found that the maid, in a sincere attempt to join in the Christmas doings, had hung the new potholders on the wall with the Christmas stockings. I guess, for somebody who had no real idea but was trying to follow the logic of the tradition, it probably made a good sense to hang the giant mittens on the wall next to the giant socks. Clueless but cute, and in the right spirit regardless. We left the potholders there until we took all the decorations down a week and a half later.

Merry Christmas.

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