Turkish New Years
The most surprising part of New Years is how many symbols are appropriated from Christmas (or how many ‘Christmas’ traditions in the US may have been lifted from the latter holiday).
Santa Clause came (in the guise of a tanned uncle with chic rimless glasses under the red hat) at approximately 9 pm on December 31st. Those things we call Christmas decorations, Christmas trees and Christmas lights? Didn’t show up till relatives came for New Years Eve dinner.
At first it seemed a little odd – the ‘Christmas’ festoonery and three-story-tall Christmas trees in all the malls, the fake stuffed Santa Clauses climbing up people’s balconies. Godless China has appropriated Christmas (and invented some of its own with ‘Christmas apples’), but the majority of Turkey’s population is Muslim, and I certainly didn’t see malls decked out in, for example, Corban decorations. But then I figured it out – none of these symbols represent Christmas, not here, not even in a vaguely secular-shopping way. They’ve been borrowed for a new holiday, given a new life accompanying endless rounds of “Happy New Years!” (Though I’ve head a few people mistakenly say “Happy Birthday!” instead).
Like in Russia and Post-Soviet countries, New Years here is primarily a family holiday. E and I were originally planning to go out, but no one we asked was doing anything other than spending the evening with relatives, and no one knew a good place to go. So we stayed in for dinner, and planned to go out after midnight (but fell asleep).
For every major holiday E’s family makes stacks and stacks of pide. Early in the afternoon his mother blends ground beef, tomatoes, peppers, spices, and onions, and then his sister brings several dishes of the mixture to the local baker who spreads it on long, thin plate-sized pieces of dough and bakes it in the oven. Back on the table pide is eaten rolled up, with a spritz of lemon, perhaps stuffed with tomatoes or lettuce, and accompanied by a dozen salads and cold dishes, mostly made with yogurt. There is no starter, main dish, or dessert (though E’s sister-in-law, who manages the restaurant of a local university, carefully laid out a three-fork-three-knife place setting that no one used). Rather, relatives and relatives arrived around seven, we sat down to eat dinner, and the nibbling on salad continued to midnight, later accompanied by toasts, a visit from Santa, and a game of “Chingo” just like bingo.