Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Christmas in a non-secular Muslim country is even less Christmassy than you’d think

Kas Turkey

Start with the irony that turkey (the bird) is nearly unknown here in Turkey (the country). This will be my second straight Christmas in a country that’s barely aware it exists, and this one feels more strange and even less festive than the last one.

Last Christmas I spent at the tail-end of a month in Bali, having traveled around Asia for the full year before that. At least in Bali they get slightly increased tourism from Aussies and Europeans during the end of December, so the locals do know that it’s a special time for the Western visitors.

This year I find myself living in a small town called Kaş, along Mediterranean Turkey and I’m going through what I imagine is now normal for many expats in Asia. While December 25th is so huge in our part of the world that you are inescapably reminded of it every hour of the month, in other parts of the world (like this one) it’s just another day on the calendar.

Caught between two worlds

I’ve been invited to a traditional Christmas dinner party at the house of one of my expat friends, so on the day things will feel a bit normal, but in the run-up to the holiday there is nothing normal about it for me.

I’d imagine that if I were living in, say, Beijing, it would be understandable that there is no acknowledgment of Christmas, even though I’ve read that it’s actually catching on a bit in China now as it has already in Japan. Maybe those living in Dubai haven’t even the slightest hint of Christmas, but of course there you have a very dominant religion that has its own overt weekly traditions.

So the weird thing about being in southern Turkey during the Christmas period is that not that long ago this was part of Greece, and the town looks identical to European Mediterranean cities as far away as Spain. The weather has turned chilly and the Winter solstice is upon us, so it feels almost like “Whoville” where Christmas should be here, but for some reason just isn’t.

Odder still is the fact that the actual Saint Nicholas lived and worked (1,700 years ago) in a town (Demre) only about 50 kilometers from here. Yet I’ve seen not a single decoration anywhere in town at all, nor do I expect to. I visited St. Nick’s church a couple weeks ago, which was crowded with Russian tourists even in December, but not even a hint of Christmas.

And again, it would feel less strange if there was a dominant religion here other than Christianity, but the paradox of (at least this part of) Turkey is that they have the Muslim Call To Prayer five times daily, but it’s done in Arabic (a language no one here knows) and it appears to be ignored by 100% of the locals, save the guy actually warbling it.

I’ve just heard that a Santa-like character has started appearing in larger Turkish cities, though only in conjunction with New Years celebrations. Whether those are present soon in Kaş, it won’t likely make me forget that I really do appreciate Christmas traditions far more than I have ever been willing to admit.


9 thoughts on “Christmas in a non-secular Muslim country is even less Christmassy than you’d think

  1. The ignorance of this writer is beyond words. Is there any quality control or editorial function at expatify.com?

    1.) Turkey is a secular country.
    2.) Why would a Muslim country be more likely to acknowledge Christmas than China?
    3.) There are many churches in Istanbul that celebrate Christmas.
    4.) All of my Turkish friends wish me “Merry Christmas” during the season.
    5.) It’s not true to say that everyone ignores the call to prayer. How many American Catholics are in mass every Sunday.
    6.) “Not that long ago this was Greece”??? What history books are you studying? This has been Turkey since 1453 and the area where the Author lives was Turkish before that.
    7.) Because the area looks like Mediterranean Spain it should celebrate Christmas? Seriously?

  2. I can’t tell if this is someone impersonating an ignorant internet commentor for laughs, or really someone so filled with rage that they missed the whole point. Not to waste much time just in case it’s the former, Turkey calls itself a secular country, but they just mean the government and church aren’t the same. The rest is so idiotic that it’s got to be a joke. -Tom

  3. There’s no rage, other than the indignation caused by such a sloppy article. Are you the author? Because your response is just as intellectually lazy as the main article. You spend more energy talking about my intentions than the substance of the points. I kept them brief to keep the focus on the specific flaws of the article. Trying to sweep them away by insulting my intentions without addressing ANY of them doesn’t make them less valid.

    “They just mean the government and church aren’t the same”??? Right, isn’t that they very definition of a secular state? What’s really idiotic and ignorant is the headline of the article.

  4. Disappointed User,

    You aren’t arguing that Turkey is mostly a Muslim country so I have to assume this is a friend pretending to be a professional troll because no one else would waste this much time trying to insert their own personal experiences into an essay about feeling strange during a holiday. Your own personal experiences will fit nicely into your own essay but they don’t affect mine.

    Interestingly, I’m working on another article about how some expats are so bored and unhappy that they spend half their days trolling expat forums and articles looking for ways to spread their own unhappiness. Look forward to being quoted in that one, but not to worry since you aren’t using a real name anyway. -Tom

  5. Oh yes, because Americans really hype up about Ramadan. You selfish idiot, the world doesn’t revolve around you.

  6. Annoyed, thank you for commenting, and thank you for reinforcing the stereotype of bitter expats trolling articles and message boards trying to spread unhappiness. The original essay was about feeling out of place in an adopted country that ignored Christmas. It wasn’t a complaint and it had nothing to do with America being better, so your turning it into a complaint and then complaining about the made-up complaint is a perfect example of how many sad or bored expats see the world. I’m going to use this in an upcoming article as well about that very subject. -Tom

  7. Christmas is celebrated more vibrantly in the malls and airports of the gulf countries (except for Saudi) I have religious friends who complain that the only signs of Eid is that offices & schools r closed. Just thought I should let u know what u said about Dubai is not true. I do understand your point about being in a ‘secular’ country. But don’t tell me that u don’t see any sign of Christmas in Paris. Well this is what happens when secularism is enforced upon an otherwise mainly conservative population. France took a long time to become what it is today, Secular Turkey is relatively young.

  8. 1) Analyzing Turkey through Kas is like analyzing Spain through a town in Alicante.

    2) Why does this resistance against Globalization bother you? Why does these people necessarily embrace a shopping craze because even the Asians are doing it?

    3)Istanbul is all you want. If you want to get that New Year feeling, just be present at Taksim Meydani, İstiklal Caddesi at New Year time. You’ll have an experience you couldn’t think of having back home.

    4) Being an expat must be hard for a North America centric.

  9. Thanks for the comments, Ipek.

    1) The post wasn’t meant to analyze all of Turkey, just my own situation around Christmas.

    2) What makes you think the resistance to globalization bothered me? It was just an observation that it’s different here.

    3) I don’t really care for Istanbul much. I certainly wouldn’t move to a city just for a night or two of familiar parties.

    4) It’s actually very easy, partly because most people think they know a lot about the US, and many of them do. It’s easy to strike up conversations about differences and similarities. I think people from places that are not culturally diverse have a much tougher time moving elsewhere. Big parts of the US are filled with immigrant communities from all over, so it’s already like living abroad in some ways.

    Again, thanks for reading and commenting. I really do like it here in Kas and I might come back after I leave for the summer.

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