Thursday, December 24, 2015


It started with Thanksgiving. David and I had only been in Cambodia a few weeks, and the thought of trying to find poultry of any kind and cook it in our over-sized toaster oven seemed overwhelming. (Although during that period of settling in, cooking just about anything seemed overwhelming!) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year, but this year we decided to pass when it came to a traditional Thanksgiving. The two of us loaded up into a tuk tuk and went down to the riverside. We ate gnocchi for lunch at our local Italian restaurant and had a walk along the river in 90 degree weather.

It was a good day. But it wasn't Thanksgiving.

Before long the month changed, and Christmas started to hit Phnom Penh. I wasn't ready for it.

As we got further and further into December, more and more scary looking Santas started showing up in front of grocery stores and shops. Fake snow and evergreen garland felt oppressive as I walked the streets of our neighborhood with the heat index over a hundred degrees. Cafes and restaurants started playing the very worst holiday songs with the volume all the way up.

Christmas felt like an unwanted house guest. It was here, it was loud and it would be staying all month like it or not. Christmas in Phnom Penh made me want to run and hide.

I wasn't prepared for it to be December already. With all the changes in our lives this year and the heat, my mind's calendar is off. And Christmas? We were only just getting over the "survival mode" phase of settling in, and I was not ready to think about shopping and baking and new traditions and being far away from almost all of our friends and family. I didn't have space to think about deconstructing and reassembling a traditional American Christmas in any kind of meaningful way. On top of that, we didn't realize our church here in Phnom Penh would be celebrating Christmas earlythe weekend we needed to take the bus to Vietnam to reset our visas. We missed even that.

If Christmas could have waited a couple more months, I might have been ready, but at the beginning of this month, I was not prepared for it. I was tempted to let our first Christmas here go the way of our first Thanksgiving. I decided 10 days out from Christmas, though, that repelled or not, it was time to turn toward Christmas.

David and I talked about reasonable ways we could celebrate Christmas meaningfully this year and slowly started to turn the ship. I downloaded a handful of the most pared-down Advent and Christmas hymns I could find from iTunes and began reading through the lectionary. I walked through our neighborhood market looking for warm weather Christmas decor. We planned a menu that would fit in our little oven and decided to bake cookies for our teachers, our tuk tuk driver and our building's security guards.

That's the extent to the trappings involved in our Christmas this year. David and I decided to exchange only a small token gift with each other this year...and a few days ago realized neither one of us had gotten that yet. So we scrapped even that.

Our first Christmas here, well, it's not much. Yet, as I have created some space for Advent and Christmas I have learned so much already. In this place that largely has no idea what this holiday celebrates, in a country where devastating poverty isn't out of sight, in a larger world turned dark with war and racism and terror, I'm taken by the small light that enters the waiting, hopeful, completely oblivious world around it.

I'm thankful to have a reason to start fresh with Christmas. I'm thankful to begin again. I'm thankful to be able to focus on the light coming into the darkness. I'm thankful for the reminder that Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again. This year, that means more to me than ever before.

Merry Christmas!