A Christmas Misfit in the Land of the Ezan

Yesterday a Turkish friend of mine asked me a question I have been asked many times before. She asked me if I were religious; not to know my standing on god or to have a religious debate, but to know if I would be celebrating Christmas next week. I paused then answered, no, I am not religious, but I still celebrate Christmas. My father would call this, being “culturally religious”, and if that’s the case, than perhaps I am. However, I don’t really know if religion really has anything to do with it. I think for most, ‘god’ has been taken out of the Christmas equation many moons ago. But if that’s the case, what then is Christmas all about? I suppose the ‘idea’ of god is still present for some; with the festive joy and merrymaking for the birth of Christ… But what about the rest of us? Is it really all about consumerism? Fighting traffic and fellow elbowing shoppers to get that last most-have-Christmas item for a loved one? Maxing out your credit card as you try and outdo your last years Christmas barrage of presents? Battling the tree as it topples and wobbles about in the tree stand? Hanging sparkly lights outside your house and drastically increasing your electric bill for the month of December? Trying to out-shine your neighbors? Forcing yourself to smile when surrounded by all the relatives you try painstakingly to avoid for the rest of the year? Sending Christmas cards to everyone you’ve known since birth; bragging about how perfect your family has had it all year, unsympathetic to those that may not have had it so good, that are curled up alone after loosing their only child, or been diagnosed with some terminal disease? Ah yes, the splendid joys of the Christmas season.

A lot of people hate Christmas, and when I say hate; they despise it with an ungodly sort of determined loathing that could send any small, Santa Clause loving child into a palpitating sense of shock. They’ve usually suffered some traumatic Yuletide event in their past or quite the opposite; had a wonderful childhood of Christmas bliss and have, for one reason or another, turned against it. I had a brief moment of being in this second category. It was a short lived moment and one that I am glad has quickly passed and I can now come to a greater understanding of just what this crazy holiday means to me, god and religion aside.

The reasoning for my sudden shift from sparkly eyes of Christmas wonder, to a tearful, panic laden stocking stuffed nightmare, was the death of my brother. Unsurprisingly enough, I have met many that turn against the holiday in a saddened rebellion of a lost loved one, and unfortunately, many never do go back. I think what it took for me was a couple years completely divorced from the holiday all together to really be able to appreciate what the significance of Christmas really is in my world.

This will be my second Christmas spent in Turkey, a country totally devoid of the Christmas holiday, (makes sense being a Muslim country and all). I have few ‘Western’, or should I say ‘culturally Christian’ friends here and the ones I do are off to enjoy their free weekend on brighter shores. While living in Poland, I always made the long journey home, but for reasons of poor economic planning, I simply have not had that privilege for the past two years. So I have somehow managed to avoid Christmas all together. No tree, no hours fighting crowds in the mall, no Christmas cookie making with my mother as silly Christmas songs waft throughout the house, no entertainingly watching my father try to balance the towering pine, no eggnog and toasty pj parties as the world becomes white and slippery all around us. No having to hear the same monotonous holiday songs as they blast in and out of every shop you enter or pass by from Halloween until well after New Years… (phew, thank GOD for that one. There are many things about Christmas in America, that I am very happy to be living without!)

Some say Christmas is for children… and perhaps they are right. Some of my most cherished memories growing up are of the Christmas season. None of which have anything to do however with god, or the ritualistic giving and receiving of gifts. They’re about the incredible warmth I felt being surrounded by my family and friends. A few years ago, when I was back at my parents’home in Colorado, I looked through some old photo albums. When I got to the ones of my teenage years, I was a bit shocked. The only pictures of me where taken during Christmas. Being a pretty unpleasant (to put it mildly) teenager, I was not exactly the picture perfect daughter… (literally). I realized, the only time of year during these charming teenage years that my family could get a smile out of me, was around Christmas time. So some of the only pictures I have of me as a 16 year old girl, are of me standing by the Christmas tree, dressed all in black, dog collar around my neck and sprouts of green hair messily poking out from under my bright red, velvet Santa hat. (The pictures are seriously adorable!) Anyway, the season was magical as no matter what psycho drama you were currently undergoing, Christmas somehow made it all better – like you instantly reverted to a worry-free child of five for a few weeks and all the other trivialities were put aside for the time being. Oh great! So basically, Christmas is like a break in time from reality…. where you get to simply enjoy the things that you have been lucky enough to have been given, and that are the most important… like family, friends and of course, good food and (dare I say), credit?!

Christmas falls at the end of the year, when you can reflect on the good and bad of the past 12 months. It’s around the Winter Solstice, when our hemisphere is at it’s darkest, and for many, their world is encased in thick ice and snow. Christmas hopefully warms us up a bit and brightens our long, often dark and lonely nights. I’m still struggling as I search for a way to observe, celebrate or experience Christmas this year. Away from my family and the familiarity of my Christmas comfort bubble, I feel a bit cheated from my gift of my cultural ‘reality break’. A present sent across the globe, is a very nice gesture, even if it never reaches it’s destination. A Skype conversation on Christmas morning is sweet, but misses the point… the point of being together, to feel that warmth that is such a splendid mix of cherry flavored liqueur and just plan old good feeling. A Christmas Eve dinner with fellow ex-pats you barely know is a fine attempt at trying to recreate this feeling, yet somehow is destined to fall flat.

All sappy sentimentality aside… (if that’s at all possible at this point), I miss Christmas – not because I miss the gifts or the shopping, or the decorations, or the stupid music… but because I miss my family and all their wonderful traditions that made a dark and cold time of year feel magical and alive with wonder… 🙂 And on that sappy note, I bid adieu and to all, a Merry Christmas!