Jingle all the way

Thankfully no one was hurt and no property damaged, but the damage to nature was significant. The fire started around midnight, and the last of it was extinguished some 12 hours later by a deluge of rain. The heroic firefighters had been working with no fire appliances and no water supply on a dark and dangerous mountainside using only their shovels and rakes. We learned something that we had previously not known. It seems that the fire helicopters we occasionally see during the summer are on hire from Russia, and at the end of the summer they are deemed to be no longer necessary so are put off-hire and sent back to Russia with thanks, and presumably a fat check. Perhaps the end of the Turkish summer should have been delayed a few weeks more than it actually was. (Let us hope that Mr. Putin allows the helicopters to return in future.)

For the first time this winter we lit our main wood burning heating stove. It is installed in the dining room on the ground floor and produces enough heat to warm the rest of the house to a bearable temperature after the sun goes down, a temperature which can be readily raised to a comfortable level in any room by electric heaters. I am not very sure quite how “green” we are with that heating arrangement; no doubt most of our electricity comes from coal fired power stations, perhaps a little from hydro and just a pinch from solar and wind power. I am feeling comforted by the fact that the wood we burn in our house was not felled for the purpose of burning but was either brought down by gales, old age or land clearance. If we did not now benefit from the latent energy therein, it would be released, together with methane over the course of some years as the wood slowly rotted. The several hundred trees that we actually own, about half of which we planted ourselves, are probably growing in total volume at a rate far greater than we could harness should we wish to. Talking of which…

Ten years ago we decorated one of our fir trees with fairy lights for the Christmas season. The tree is in an elevated position not far from the side of the main road into the valley and cheerfully greeted villagers and visitors alike. I estimate that the tree was then about four meters tall, and I managed to decorate it with five strings of lights using just a domestic stepladder. Last year the tree had reached a height of about 10 meters and I needed 10 strings of lights, which I had a lot of difficulty stringing up using a five-meter ladder, a fishing rod and a certain amount of courage. This year I have decided to throw in the towel and reduce our Christmas decorations to a few lights in the lounge and a set of electric candles in the upstairs gable window which looks out over the road. When we first displayed those candles some 20 years ago one of our Turkish neighbors expressed his astonishment that “… those German candles, last so long!”

So, more and more the Turkish folk are adopting aspects of the West’s celebrations around the second half of December. See how politically correct I am? I did not say “around Christmas and New Year’s” lest anyone be offended, though let us agree that most Christmas traditions have little or nothing to do with Christianity. The Christmas tree, for instance, has long been a pagan symbol. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives that “[t]he use of evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity.” When the roof of a new house in Germany is nearing completion, a celebration known as Richtfest is held when a small evergreen tree or similar green decoration is erected on the ridge of the roof and, as is usual in that jolly country, beer and sausages are consumed in copious amounts. In some parts of Britain a wooden triangle is fixed at the peak of a gable-ended roof where the barge-boards meet. This is thought to represent a fir tree. Finally a representation of an evergreen tree can often be seen on tombstones in parts of Asia Minor.

Skipping over the history of Santa Claus

I won’t bore you with the history of Santa Claus, you’ll have read it all too often, but note that he, his wife and even his young daughter are frequent visitors to shop windows in Turkey; his reindeer likewise. In our nearest town the nubile daughter usually stands outside a ladies underwear shop wearing red underwear, red silk stockings held up with suspenders, red stiletto boots and of course the red woolly hat, all trimmed with white fur. I think she must be very cold; a full fur coat would be more appropriate.

A gentleman writing in our local press some years ago accused us of teaching a “Christian song” to our local schoolchildren. Gracefully the paper allowed us the right to reply and after informing him that the song was taught to the children by their schoolteacher, not by us, I pointed out that the song in question, “Jingle Bells,” has nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. It was written by a Mr. James Pierpont in 1850 and was inspired by an annual sleigh race in Medford, Massachusetts. At the time it was considered too smutty to teach to children simply because the main protagonist took a Miss Fanny Bright with him, possibly having hanky-panky in mind. I also pointed out that the tune was broadcast in this town’s supermarkets every year, along with the equally banal “White Christmas.”

And so to Christmas dinner. We have a more or less traditional Christmas dinner every year. We usually have about 10 guests, half being European and the other half Turkish. We have turkey, roast spuds, Brussels sprouts, apple or cranberry sauce and (at the insistence of Die Frau) red cabbage. (I drew a line at dumplings.) A guest usually produces a pudding of some sort, and we sometimes have a cake or Yule-log (cake). The Yule log was also an old pagan tradition but burnt on mid-winter day, not eaten. After dinner we do what many folk do, and I don’t mean watch TV. We sit around drinking and talking, just occasionally pausing to discipline a rowdy child. Oh, of course any child who makes it to the party will get a present or two; our most frequent child guest is a beautiful “special needs” girl who is very popular and bound to attract special attention, including presents.

Our first Christmas here was whilst we still lived on our boat. We managed to book a hotel restaurant for a Christmas dinner and signed up all the yachties to attend. Turkey was a rare bird at that time, so we settled for the management to roast just the one as a token but to serve chicken as the bulk of the meat. We had obviously not briefed the cook well enough because apart from the roast potatoes we were also served a helping of chips and the standard mound of cold boiled rice. The turkey made a grand entrance on a platter borne on the chef’s shoulder and to the accompaniment of a bagpipe band. The bird’s appearance was just a little spoiled by the presence of a lit cigarette in its bottom, the chef’s idea of decoration!

It wasn’t until about five years later that we were able to buy Brussels sprouts in our town. The day that Die Frau found them, they were only in one stall which by chance she passed en route to her usual veggie stall; she bought a couple of kilos before moving on to her usual stall. The stallholder demanded to know what was in her plastic bag so Frau showed him. He was most indignant and told her, with an appropriate gesture of hands, that his cabbages were much bigger.