Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Christmas in Turkey, Part I
Ah, the holidays abroad. The time of year when you try to uphold the traditions of your own childhood and culture, both for your children and yourself. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving and even managed a traditional dinner, along with the glee of being able to say “We’re eating Turkey in Turkey!” I, in a fit of childish behavior, had to make the joke right at the beginning of the meal because I couldn’t take the tension of waiting to see who would say it first.
But how to create a Christmas atmosphere for your children while living in a country that is 99.5% Sunni Muslim? Well, as it turned out, we didn’t have to do too much work. Christmas, so to speak, is everywhere in Turkey.
Obviously, the Turks do not celebrate Christmas, but they celebrate New Year’s the exact way we celebrate Christmas – with a tree and presents and St. Nick (I will get to this in another blog posting, but the fat man in a red suit that you know as Santa Claus is actually St. Nicolas, who was, of course, TURKISH. As I mentioned in an earlier posting about the history of Turkey, anything that was important in the ancient world has to do with Turkey.) So there are lighted, elaborately decorated, and to our eyes, “Christmas” trees everywhere – in building lobbies, malls, and city squares. Conveniently, New Year’s is just a week after Christmas, so to our kids, everything was decorated for Christmas. Our apartment building has a tree in the lobby, as does the building next door. All of them are fake, but no matter where you look the spirit of Christmas is here.
But our children have never had their own Christmas tree (for various reasons over the years) and we decided that this year, they would. So began the hunt for a real Christmas tree in Ankara, Turkey. Armed with some vague addresses of where people MAY have bought a tree last year, we set out. After a couple of hours, many liters of gas and no luck, we briefly contemplated a nighttime raid on one of the many lovely coniferous forests in the southern part of the city with a saw and dark clothing, but decided it was not worth being sent home for a felony should we be caught. But lo and behold, as disappointment began to reign, my sister, visiting for the holidays, noticed a bunch of pine trees propped up on the curb a couple of blocks off the Konya highway. A few exits and U-turns later, we actually found what she had spotted – a small, well, I hesitate to call it a nursery but that’s the closest word to describe it, “nursery” tucked into the sidewalks of an urban neighborhood. The trees were spindly and droopy but live. We picked the most robust, robust being a very relative term, 3-ft tall-on-a-good-day tree, bargained the guy down to about $100, and loaded it into my trunk.
And how to decorate? Well, you can get decorations everywhere in Ankara. The large store across the street has 2 50-ft aisles of, uh, New Year’s decorations – string lights, bulbs, ornaments, candles, tinsel, Santa figurines, Santa cups, Santa mugs etc. Could have knocked me over with a feather I was so surprised.
So call it New Year’s, but my kids were treated to a lovely Christmas here. Turkey really is a crossroads between the east and the west. But the whole season could be summed up in an ornament I couldn’t resist buying, a gorgeous hand-painted tree ornament depicting Santa in his sleigh, riding through the sky….over a mosque.