Christmas in Turkey; a story

The truth was I wanted to hug her for putting out the tree, but was scared.  You see, my directors assistant is an interesting woman.  She has been the subject of many conversations between my wife and me.  We just can’t seem to figure her out.  One morning she can seem warm and friendly, and that evening come across as, well, not precisely as cold as ice, but maybe melted ice.  She has a reputation among the student body.  If our students become unruly we send them to her for a verbal beating.  Her conversations are seldom adorned with niceties; she is straight-forward.  I have yet to see any color but black and white fashion her middle-aged short and skinny body.  She does her job well though; a well calculated administrator.

Rewind a month ago to a dinner Emily and I were having, over which we were discussing our plans for the holidays.  The general tone of the conversation was one of slight discouragement, because we learned that the extent of our Christmas break would simply be Saturday and Sunday, the days we usually get off for the weekend; so nothing celebratory, no time set aside to enjoy family, nothing….Christmasy!  We started to talk about how we remembered in the states how Christmas songs started playing the first clock tick into the day after Thanksgiving, and how people just began to talk and gossip about their holiday plans, favorite eggnog recipes, and what family they were going to see.  It amazes me now just how consumed with Christmas America becomes.  From the commercials, to church programs, to decorated city squares and streets greeting father Christmas on a sleigh in a parade.  It is only now, being extracted from the Yule craziness, that I realize that it’s mostly the stimulation from my environment that makes me realize its Christmas, rather than the answer to the question of why there is a holiday called Christmas.

Needless to say, we were missing Christmas.  Adjusting to Turkish culture had been quite an adjustment; tough, emotionally draining, but rewarding having finally been able to build cultural bridges to these wonderful people here.  Being our first Christmas away from a Christmas saturated culture, I was not prepared to feel so disappointed.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I just wanted everything to feel “Christmasy!”  Just throw some red and green on stuff, I don’t care what, just make it “feel” Christmasy!  We were aching to feel like we were in the spirit.

Anyways back to our lady!  Black and white!  Straight with corners!  I don’t want you to read a Scrooge character into her, but rather a Scrooge moment perhaps.  One morning, like usual, Emily and I got off the bus to school, and walked our usual route to our offices on campus.  It was a typical southern Turkey day in December; cool morning around 50 degrees, with wet pavement as it rains here and there.  Everything is still green.  Green grass, green palm trees, green foliage.  Simply by appearance you would say it looked rather like summer than winter, let alone like Christmas.

Emily and I rounded the corner towards our office and as we entered the main lobby my eyes were met with such a delightful sight!!  One that caused an unsuppressible feeling from inside me to erupt!  Flashing colors of red and green bouncing festively off shiny round objects caused a smile to bubble up that morning.  She had put up a Christmas tree!  For us!!  Well, for the foreigners I suppose, since Turkey is Muslim and don’t “officially” celebrate Christmas time.

In my joy and my surprise I walked up to the tree and its decorator, our Mrs. Administrator.  She was just finishing up her touches of tree decorations.  There was tinsel, gold and silver ornaments, and flashing lights wrapped around a 3 foot miniature pine tree, placed on a small table.  I said to her, “It’s beautiful!  You put up a Christmas tree!  It’s wonderful!”  Here was this calculated, black and white, administrator being all creative and pretty with a tree.  It first and foremost surprised me that it was her doing this.  When I complimented the tree, she looked at me with one of the biggest colorful smiles, and in the cutest Turkish accent she said, “Reeelly?  I’m glad you like it.”  That smile, that woman, that tree really put some spirit in my Christmas this year.

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