Friday, December 18, 2009

Nostalgically about Christmas

I fell in love with Turkey the first time I visited it in summer 2006. 

A year later, I was doing my CELTA in Istanbul and got my first job there. Although I had a chance to work in Shanghai and Madrid something was dragging me to Anatolia.

Living the life of an expat is a very enriching experience. You make new friends, get to know different cultures and opinions, learn the mother tongue of the locals.

Having lived in Istanbul for over two years now I’ve done it all. Yet there is something I miss here most – Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. Turkish people know about Christmas. You can see Xmas decorations in shops while you stroll along the malls looking for presents to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’. You even start praising Americans for building Starbucks. The majority of Turks I know decorate Christmas trees, called here ‘the New Year’s Trees’ and give each other presents on December 31st.

Still the most important thing is generally missing – the Christmas spirit. Those of you who are Christians or were raised in a Christian country should get my point. The feeling of anxiety, the desire to be kind to people, the shopping frenzy and the overeating I disliked before are all absent. The worst thing is that it is a regular working day for a great majority of people.

I don’t blame Turks for that. In the end, Christmas is not part of their culture. It reminds of my own attitude to Halloween – a tradition absent from Polish culture. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot start getting excited about it.

A South African colleague of mine has been living in Istanbul for over 14 years with a Turkish husband and two daughters. One of them is 13, the other - 11 years old. Believe it or not, these two girls still think Santa is real J Although all the kids in their school have been telling them that it is parents who actually buy the presents, Aybüke and Kardelen refuse to accept. Surprising?

My friend Yolanda is a wise lady. ‘Your friends don’t get presents from Santa because they don’t believe in him. Santa comes to you because you wait for him’, she always says. In a country where Christmas spirit is rare, the one you can find melts even the coldest hearts.

Merry Christmas everyone J


  1. I feel very similarly about Christmas in Japan, although I would never call myself a Christian. It's a strange feeling - stranger than the beach Christmases I've spent in Australia. But the Japanese New Year is the family time, so in our house we just extend the whole thing into a mash-up winter holiday....

  2. I guess it's all different when you have your own family :)

    Merry Xmas Darren and thanks for dropping by!

  3. Hi there,

    Sounds to me like a good reason for me to move to Turkey! Although if I was in somewhere like Turkey, I might also feel the same way. I think it's a case sometimes of missing what you haven't got.

    I'm living in Poland (which is where I'll be for Christmas) and as I'm not a Christian, I couldn't really care less about Christmas and to be honest I can't wait until it's over. Having said that, it's nowhere near as bad as being in the UK where Christmas just seems to be one big competition to see who can spend the most money.

    AS for Christmas spirit, I've never understood this idea that people should be nice to each other just because it's Christmas, what about the rest of the year?

  4. I guess throughout the rest of the year we should be as nasty as possible :)

  5. I really enjoy being extra-nice to people at Christmas time. I also make sure I get things in balance by being horrible to them for the rest of the year.

    Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

  6. Christmas was never one of my favorites. Halloween all the way baby :) But the thing I do like about it is the idea of gift giving and sharing. Turks give gifts on birthdays, when they visit, or sometimes just out of the blue, which is really sweet, but I miss having a day for it. Don't know why. The thing I don't miss are the godawful Christmas songs that don't stop playing on the radio :)