Christmas in Bishkek: Another Altered Holiday

This year hasn’t felt quite like Christmas – the holiday kind of snuck up on us, and now suddenly it’s passed – 8:45 on Christmas morn – without it ever really happening.

DSC_0062I kept wondering why this was – the lack of feeling that it was indeed ‘the season’ for one of the most central holidays of the Western calendar.  Bishkek shops do have some ornaments (even our elevator has mixed Christmas greetings and a Hyundai Elevator slogan – despite the elevator itself being an LG…).  There are fake Christmas trees and cheap ornaments – and firecrackers – for sale at the bazaars, along with cardboard boxes decorated in Santa Clauses and gingerbread houses and stuffed with [terrible] Kyrgyz candy at all the grocery stores. But that’s about it.

For Christmas Eve dinner we decided to go to the Hyatt, which was holding a 4 course Christmas Dinner.  They should have just advertised it as a “dinner” though as, apart from the festive festoons on the menu and the tree in the lobby, there wasn’t actually anything ‘Christmas’ about it – very polite, but harried waitresses; skewered shrimp wrapped in potatoes and accompanied by tangy sauce for an appetizer followed by fresh spinach soup, a main course of very tough duck and orange sauce lacking any tang, apple berry strudel with sorbet and a heavy cream-based vanilla sauce.  But there was no music, no anything else to signify the day.  Growing up in Minnesota, where residents can properly revel in all that is “Christmas”, I’m used to lights, Christmas Carollers, ever-present piano music in all the hotel lobbies and shopping plazas, bells tolling for donations, and endless renditions of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.  Even China gets in the spirit, with misshapen department store displays (my favorite featured a British telephone box and a dutch windmill), and an invented “Apple Day” (which most residents think they borrowed from the west).

However, it’s not just the lack of decoration or a few certain tunes though.  Yesterday I realized the underlying cause – the lack of ‘Christmas Spirit’, including everything from excitement and anticipation to a general kindness in spirits.  Work proceeds as usual for the population today, and it’s a bit difficult to conjure up the ‘Christmas Spirit’ when, on you way to Christmas Dinner an SUV – or three in succession – is barreling towards you in in the wrong lane because they just can’t wait in traffic with the rest of the plebeians.  Yep, not a lot of Christmas compassion there.

Bishkek does have a Christmas – Russian Orthodox Christmas – which takes place at the end of a week-long New Year’s holiday. But for now I feel kind of stuck between holidays, waiting for New Years (when we’ll actually open the presents stacked under our fake little tree) and planning a better New Year’s Dinner, at home and with friends as every place outside will be eerily empty.

(And yes, this got stuck in drafts and was thus published rather late)

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