Christmas is in the heart of Pinoys in Cambodia

By Leti Boniol Philippine Daily Inquirer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—It will be Mylene Malabanan’s second Christmas away from home this year. She will be spending Christmas Eve with Filipino friends also working in this southeast Asian capital, as she did last year. As for Christmas Day, “it’ll probably be just a regular Saturday for me.”

In a country where Buddhism reigns, Christmas is a struggle for thousands of Filipino professionals here, so they stick together, at least for the noche buena.

Mylene’s idea of Christmas is “just staying home with the family, seeing the children’s faces light up when they open their gifts, hearing their laughter, picture-taking, eating. I won’t have those here.”

Her friend Marie Anne ‘Maan’ Abrera, an account director and producer for a production company who has been working for five years here, says she has learned how to cope. “You miss your family, friends, and the tradition.” Still, she says the Filipino “community here will try to celebrate the way it is supposed to be” as “Christmas is in our hearts.”

But there is a good side to being away, she says: “I am not pressured to give gifts.”

Another Pinoy friend, Leon Franco Dionco, a creative director for a fashion magazine, says Filipinos are flexible and know how to maximize what they have so they can still enjoy Christmas together.

Three years in the Cambodian capital, Franco, an advertising graduate from Manila, has observed that since 2008, Christmas decor has been popping up in the city. He surmises that Phnom Penh is slowly being influenced by international holidays.

Mylene now sees “a lot of commercial establishments hanging Christmas decors. Bookstores also sell Christmas trees, some establishments have big Santa inflatables in front of their shops.”

Maan said she is sad in a way because some sectors in the city are “celebrating commercially without really understanding the true meaning of Christmas.”

Franco says he prefers to celebrate Christmas in a simple way. It is New Year’s Eve he is waiting for, and at Mylene’s office, December 31 is the one they really celebrate.

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