It’s New Year’s Eve around the world. In Ankara, it is celebrated much like it is in other countries, with parties, dinner, and friends. However, in Turkey, there is a twist. Many people are adding traditional Christmas festivities to their New Year’s celebrations. In Ankara, I have many friends who have New Year’s trees with all of the required “Christmas” ornaments. There are displays with Santa Claus. And friends and family often exchange gifts.
Well, I guess that’s not so odd considering St. Nicholas was from Turkey. Or should I say a Greek who was born in Lycia, which is part of modern-day Turkey. I can’t keep track of all of the land-exchanges through so many wars! But I definitely don’t want to anger my Greek friends!
I was thinking last night – yes, as I sat on my balcony – about the differences in how we celebrate holidays throughout the world. I recently returned from celebrating Christmas with my cousins in Germany. It was beautiful. But there were differences. First, there weren’t so many exterior lights as we don our houses with in the States. I saw one house, elegantly covered with white lights. My cousin called it “kitsh” but she still liked it. It was waaaaay less lights than I probably have hung on my mother’s house every year.
The second difference was the Christmas tree, which they call it a Kristkindbaum, a Christ Child tree. And at least in my family, every single one decorated their tree in a color theme. One had a purple tree, the other gold, one red, and so on. No one decorated as we do in my American family, with every single ornament we have ever collected. Hanging the ugly ones in the back (because we just can’t bear to throw them away), and spending time thinking about where, when, or from whom we obtained each ornament.
Another dfference was the greeting of “Merry Christmas!” All in Germany said it, but only once. It was never repeated, as I would every day when I saw my cousins again. A few days after Christmas, I greeted someone with “Froehe Weihnachten” and was told that Christmas is over. It was soooooo not over. Christmas is a season. My tree won’t come down until at least “Little Christmas” when the Three Kings finally arrive. That’s January 6th in case you didn’t know!
The most significant difference was the giving of presents, which was done on Christmas Eve (Heiliges Abend – Holy Night) instead of Christmas morning. As the children are taking a nap, or at Church, the window is left open a few inches so that the Christ Child, that’s right – not Santa Claus, can deliver the presents.
Finally, I didn’t notice anyone leaving snacks out for the KristKind. In America we leave milk and cookies for Santa. Last week an old friend from grade school was reading Guinn’s Autobiography of Santa Claus to her daughter Samantha. In an early chapter it said that although Santa loves cookies and milk, that being from Turkey he misses good goat cheese. So Samantha decided that Santa’s snack this year would be goat cheese, french bread rubbed with garlic, dates, olives and fruit juice. I haven’t received an update, but I’m pretty sure St. Nick loved it!
As I sat and pondered these differences from the rear balcony, while watching the lights of a New Year’s tree flutter across the way, I became more confused about my thoughts on Christmas. As an adult, I had many friends of Jewish faith who celebrated Christmas. Some did it because of inter-faith marriages. But most simply enjoyed the trees, lights, and gifts. I always had mixed feelings about it because in my mind, they were taking Christ out of Christmas. At the same time, I loved that they we truly enjoying “my” holiday. As time passed, I realized that I also had many atheist friends who got into the spirit of the holiday, without the celebration of the birth of Christ.
Now I have a multitude of muslim friends who are ringing in the New Year with the evergreen tree, the symbol of everlasting life, the lights and the gifts. Wow! As much as I want to say, “Hey! This is not your holiday! It’s all about Christ!”, I would never do such a thing. The more I think about it, the more happy it makes me. We are all celebrating the same way despite the different beliefs. And that is a very very beautiful thing! Let’s face it, we all know the Christians changed the date and added the tree to try and lure the pagans into celebrating with them!
So, I wish you all a Merry Christamas because Christmas is a SEASON, not just a day! I also wish you a very Happy and Healthy New Year! This year, maybe the Kristkind will finally bring us PEACE ON EARTH!