Christmas around the world

For those who are of the Christian faith, Christmas and Easter are very special. The holidays have a special significance. At Easter, an egg hunt and possibly a sunrise service will be written in a day planner for the Easter week, and at Christmastime, Christmas parties at work, Christmas cantatas and special services on Christmas Eve are common. In spite of the differences of views and the gap between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, attendance at church services on Christmas and Easter Sunday is at its highest.

Many doubt if the biblical Christmas story is true. They wonder if Jesus Christ is real. There are misperceptions about every religion. For example, some people think Buddhism is a religion, while others consider it a philosophy. In the case of two other great world religions, Islam and Christianity, depending on which side of the fence you are on, one or the other can be perceived as a religion of violence. As for another point of misinformation about Christianity, some people doubt that the records of Jesus’ life are reliable. Around Christmas or Easter time, questions are often raised by skeptics, critics and enquirers.

For a number of years, I taught English as a second language to adults. Even though the lesson had nothing to do with the usage and rules of the question word “why” or the particular holiday approaching, my students always asked many questions about Christmas and Easter. Usually the questions my students asked began with one word, “why.” I’d always reply with short answers avoiding any heated discussions. Here are a few of the most asked questions:

Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?

Why does the birth of Jesus seem to be celebrated nearly worldwide?

Why do you think Jesus came to Earth?

In my piece “Love is Giving” (Dec. 11, 2014), I explore what Christmas means to Turks. Well, it depends. Turks are not a homogeneous group. Here is an overview:

For the secularists:

Take all the trappings of a Western Christmas and transpose them to the New Year. It is seen as a time of sharing and giving gifts. Many of those who celebrate the New Year will have a family celebration with presents and hindi (turkey).

For shops and businesses:

It is an opportunity to make the most of sales. You may even hear some of the popular Christmas carols such as “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells” played in malls. New Year displays feature Santa, reindeer and snowmen.

For the syncretists:

It may be a time to get a blessing by lighting a candle at the Church of St. Antoine on İstiklal Caddesi.

For the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Armenians:

Though on different dates, they share the festival celebrating the birth of Jesus, too. Some on Dec. 25, while others on Jan. 6 or 7.

For the very religious Muslim:

It is a festival to be respected, as it celebrates the birth of the Prophet Jesus, but not one to take part in yourself. You may see some strict Muslims in public with signs to remind others not to celebrate the New Year because it is pagan or sinful.

For the anti-imperialists:

Anything Western or Christian is considered bad, so it may be open to attack. A Turkish Muslim group protested, holding signs reading “Christmas is incompatible with Islam” and stabbed a plastic Santa in İstanbul on Dec. 26, 2013.

For the mass of the Anatolian poor:

It is another time to watch the media and the wealthy parade consumption that they cannot take part in. Some of the poor may receive a yılbası sepeti (New Year’s basket of goodies) if they are lucky.

For practicing Christians around the world, the significance of the spiritual meaning of Christmas is about the greatest gift, a baby born of virgin birth. Christians celebrate the one who was born in a stable in humility, died on a cross in love and rose from the dead in power.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” — Amy Carmichael