My favorite American holidays have always been the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. I like them best because they don’t come from religion, they involve great food, and best of all, they are about time spent relaxing and having fun with family (biological or chosen). After I moved to Mongolia I learned that when you are not in your home culture, it’s easy to simply forget or skip holidays such as these. As an international educator there is often a potluck for Thanksgiving where one can taste some (or all, depending on location and ingredients available) of the treasured foods, but it is not the same thing. It is just one aspect of the full experience of said holiday. Instead of enjoying the favorite holidays of my home country, I experienced new holidays in Mongolia such as their Lunar New Year, called Tsagaan Sar (white moon/white month).
Now I find myself in a different part of Asia — Turkey — and Christmas is approaching. Imagine my surprise to discover Christmas trees in malls and shops, and Turkish co-workers sharing stories about putting up their trees with the family over the weekend. This perplexed me as I associate Christmas with Christians. After a little investigation I’ve learned that it’s not exactly a Christmas tree, but rather a New Year tree. According to this article from the Daily Sabah, Turks “celebrate the coming New Year with new hopes in a shining atmosphere.” They exchange gifts on New Years Eve and share a meal with extended family in their homes. I rather like this idea. The decorations — trees, ornaments, sparkling lights — feel familiar, but the sentiment is more in line with my personality and present non-involvement in any religion. I am enjoying the festive mood without the pressure to attend church or buy presents.
It was interesting to discover in my research that the Saint Nicholas after whom our St. Nick or “Santa Claus” comes from originated right here in the great land of Anatolia. Down along the Lycian coast, a bit east of Antalya, is a town called Myra where a man named Nicholas became a bishop in the 4th century AD. It is said that this wealthy and generous man went from rooftop to rooftop, dropping coins down chimneys to people less fortunate. Later on, he was sainted. What an interesting thing to discover that, while I am not in a land that celebrates Christmas, the Santa Claus whom I grew up waiting for each Christmas Eve did come from this locale. The universe has a funny way of connecting dots, experiences, and people, something I love about life!
I’m no humbug, but I’m also not a Christmas fanatic. I’m cool to roll with whatever holidays are celebrated in the country where I make my home, and don’t much miss those from my home country while being far away.
And it is interesting to discover that there are holidays that can feel the same and evoke similar feelings. Back at the end of October, Turkey celebrated its Republic Day, which was, to me, most reminiscent of the Fourth of July in the U.S. People wore their country’s colors — red, white, black and gray — and they gathered to sing patriotic songs and wave flags. There were multiple live music venues, and families and friends gathered together over tables filled with food. I was on a solo holiday in Antalya, but never felt lonely while I ate and drank and observed Turks in celebration, complete with fountain fireworks being set off by wait staff outside restaurants. It was not my holiday, but I could feel the pride and patriotism which I know well. I felt most comfortable and dare I say, festive! I didn’t know the words, yet I understood the sentiments being expressed and shared.
And really, isn’t one component of a “holiday” simply the break from work and routine which creates time for novelty or tradition, and most of all the time to relax together and enjoy those we love?