You would think the birthplace of Father Christmas would throw a Christmas party to rival all others. It doesn’t. Although St Nicholas was born in what is now modern-day Turkey, very few here celebrate, or even acknowledge Christmas. In a predominantly Islamic country, most Turkish people won’t even be able to tell you the date of Christmas. As a result it is often confused with New Year, and the 25th of December passes by as just another run-of-the-mill, 9-to-5 workday. Of course some foreigner-frequented shopping malls will throw up the token Christmas lights to attract more foreign capital. (The amount of decoration depends on the political climate in a particular year and how foreigner-friendly the shopping mall feels it is safe to appear.) But otherwise Christmas in Turkey is little more than a blip on the radar.
What Turkish people do know of Christmas comes from American, Hallmark movies. There is the vague understanding that Christmas has something to do with a very fat man sporting an impressive beard, and that red is an important colour. Most will know that Christmas is an important Christian holiday. It is unusual, however, to encounter someone who is able to tell you that Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of İsa Mesih, Jesus the Messiah.
The Church, of course, uses Christmas as a time to reach out to the neighbourhood. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches alike open their doors and invite people to come and experience a real Christmas. As it is a heard-of, but completely unknown holiday to most Turkish people, their ‘Christmas curiosity’ will often allow them to accept an invitation to a Christmas service, whereas they would utterly reject the idea of attending a normal Sunday morning service. Christian families as well often invite their friends and neighbours around for a Christmas meal, and take the opportunity to read out the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. For many this might be the only time they hear God’s Word read. Others give Turkish Bibles as gifts, explaining that just as Jesus was God’s greatest gift to the world, one Christmas tradition is to give friends and loved ones meaningful and precious gifts. In whatever way local Christians choose to invite Turkish people into their Christmas celebration, the hope is that the festivities will break down some of the longstanding barriers between us and the way will be made open for future conversations and deeper relationships.