Do We “Do” Christmas?

I was at a Christmas party the other day and someone was very curious about whether or not we “did” Christmas.  Living in a Islamic country with a Muslim husband I suppose it was a valid question.  The thing is, religion was/is never an issue for us.  My husband is not devout, more spiritual than religious, and I am not religious or spiritual.  I celebrate Christmas as a cultural custom and a fun holiday rather than a religious exercise.

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I feel lucky that our religious differences (he believes and I do not) were never an issue for our relationship.  I know that is not true for everyone.  I have several friends who converted to Islam as it would have been an issue for the marriage and children.  Their experiences vary from a conversion simply for peace of mind for family members to an uneasy balance between Christmas and the Turkish “New Year” holiday which includes presents and decorated trees.

I also have many friends who married Turkish men who have not converted.  These friends celebrate ALL the holidays, their own religious holidays as well as the Islamic ones.     I also have friends who married regardless of the issue, and while they have no problem with it, it is an issue for their families.

One time I had someone ask me if it was a problem for my parents that my boyfriend (at the time) was a Muslim.   I was shocked that a person who was not intimately involved in my life thought it was appropriate to ask me personal questions about my relationship at all—let alone such as ridiculous one.  I told her she should focus on her own daughter who had bigger issues in her own relationship.  (Oh the horror!  Her daughter was dating a Yankees fan rather than a Red Sox fan. )

So yes.  We “do” Christmas.  We decorate a tree, exchange presents, eat fattening foods.  We also celebrate the New Year by giving presents to his family.  We have found a nice balance of his customs and mine rather than his religion and mine.

And for the larger issue at hand—NO he does not cheer for the Yankees.

Don’t You Want to be My Friend?

This year when I was trying to figure out what to buy my friends for Christmas, I was perplexed.  The more I thought about it the more I decided I did not want to buy them gifts. I wanted to make them.  (Terry—this is where you should stop reading if you want to be surprised.)  I ended up buying some baskets at the pazar and filling them with baked goods.  Here they are in all their glory.

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These eight baskets represent about 12 hours of baking.  Oh the love!

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Here is a close up—unfortunately not very good.  The baskets were filled with sugar cookies(cut into all types of lovely shapes), jam and butter cookies, peppermint chocolate pinwheel cookies and gingerbread.  All packages tied with little red bows, tucked in adorable little baskets.

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Not to brag but I think they are WAY better than the candle holders I was going to buy.   I am also psyched because I also managed to freeze a little dough so we can bake fresh cookies for our house on Christmas Eve.

Holidays-The Best and Bittersweet

I LOVE the holidays!  I love the warmth and the cheer.  I like the brightly decorated tree and the decadent food.  It is also a time for friends and family.  Which brings us to the bittersweet.  In those family times there is intense love and joy and there is pain.   We always miss the ones who are gone.  The loss haunts us at he holidays.  For some more than others.  I miss my grandparents, but when death is expected, when illness is long and slow, the grief is healthy and the wound heals.  But for some loss –the wound never heals, it aches and festers and becomes a part of your experience.   Maybe it would be better if I had faith, if I belived in the after life and a loving God.  But I don’t –so there is no comfort for me there.

My brother died 19 years ago.  He has now been dead for longer than he was alive.  He was not ill, it was not expected and the grief has never dissipated.  Perhaps because I grieve not only for what I lost, what he lost, what my family lost, but for what could have been.  For what should have been.

My brother took his own life.  Ten days before Christmas.  I think that is why I can not let go, why I haven’t healed.  Why the pain still takes my breathe away when I least expect it.  Why I don’t feel comfortable mentioning him to my family even though I know they are thinking about it too.  Because it is like a knife wound and I do not want to inflict it upon them if they are having a movement of peace.

The holidays are here.  Warm and Fun.  Gift shopping, gift giving, cooking, eating, laughing. Loving.  Remembering.  Bittersweet.




How to have a successful Thanksgiving…

Friends+ Laughter+ Love+ Food+ Wine= Fantasticness

When I first moved away from home I was far enough away that I was not really able to go home for Thanksgiving. I have to admit to a lower lip tremble over that. I am from a very close family and getting together for the holidays has always been very important to us. But since I was away, I decided to make the best of the holidays and to create my own holiday rituals and customs.

I have been very lucky in my Thanksgivings since I left home. The first year, I lived in San Diego, it was just Bulent and me. After the large chaotic extended family Thanksgivings it was a little hard emotionally. However, the high point of that year was that I successfully learned how to cook the entire meal by myself.

The second year in San Diego my BFF from New Hampshire came out with her husband and we had an amazing time. They had never been to California so it was a beach vacation rolled into the Thanksgiving holiday for them. Together we made the meal and had such a happy holiday. It really soothed my holiday homesickness.

The third year in San Diego my cousin had moved to LA and we had many more close friends. That year we hosted a Bad Ass Thanksgiving, complete with apple cider martinis and after Turkey clubbing downtown.

Last year we didn’t host but this year we really did it in style. This was our first “Married” holiday so it was pretty special that way. We had a fantastic Thanksgiving. We hosted 16 people, there was food, conversation and general merriment. We had an amazing time.

In the short time I have been in Ankara I have been lucky enough to make some truly amazing friends. Now I have my family that I was born to and the family that I have made. Holidays are no longer a time of the lower lip trembling– which is excitement in itself.

While Thanksgiving was a blast there was a lot to the preparation because of the amount of food to be cooked.

TXGIV TURKEY 2010 It included–

2 Turkeys
3 Kilos of green bean casserole
4 Kilos of mashed pumpkin
3 Kilos of cauliflower gratin
2 Kilos mashed potato
1 Salad
1 Pecan pie
1 Pumpkin pie
1 Apple pie
1 Crazy Allergic Reaction*


While I did cook most of the food myself, two of my amazing friends decided to deal with the kitchen afterwards. They did all of the pots and pans, put away the food and in general took care of 90% of the clean up. It was the best gift EVER!

Next year I will re-introduce the apple cider martinis and the dinner may be potluck. It will still be fantastic though, no matter what! All the trappings and trimmings Thanksgiving just disguise the real point of the holiday. A time for our “Framily” (friends+family) to spend time together.

*One of the reasons this post is so late and also will be the subject of the next post.

We Rock!

Or at least our party did!  We had a blast, so many of our friends came.  There was good food (I love potluck) and music, as well as liberal drinking, all the makings for a merry time.  Our different groups of friends got along really well and started to make friends with each other.  The party became standing room only, and was generally  fantastic.  Unfortunately we were so busy hosting we forgot to use our camera.  Hopefully some of our friends took pictures and I will share those.

The party was really great because it made it feel like Christmas.  It has been a little difficult for me, as this is my first Christmas away from my family.  The Christmas party was great for two reasons. First it kept me busy, second it was a blast and brought the “feeling” of Christmas.

I have been trying to focus on creating new holiday traditions rather than grieve for the old ones I can not participate in this year due to geography.  For Christmas Eve we went to a Symphony Concert which was really fun.  The music was lovely and it was something to really make the evening feel special. Tomorrow Bulent’s whole family is coming over for dinner.  It will have to be buffet style to accommodate everyone.  While the preparations for hosting  large party then a large dinner party so close together are challenging, it is worth it.  They have been so inclusive of me in their holiday traditions, I wanted to reciprocate and involve them in mine.  Plus it feels more like a holiday when your house is full of people.  Also when there is lots of wine—that makes it holiday-ish too.   Yes, I am Irish.  Can you tell?

Parties Are Supposed To Be Fun!

Unless you are planning them.  So this is to be my first big party, ever.  I have hosted large dinner parties, but not full scale bashes.  I am slightly nervous about it.  Part of it is that I don’t know everyone will fit in the apartment, also I am hoping that many people will come.  It is also less common (meaning not at all) to use disposable plates or cups.   Which is great for the environment, but not great for me.  We only have the dishes that my school provided with the apartment.  That means I have two dinner plates, four dessert plates, three soup bowls ( I already broke the 4th) and two wine glasses.  Unless I buy some disposable plates and cups, the people will just have to look at the drinks, or swig out of the bottle.  Which could be fun.

I have brought the American tradition of potluck to the party aka I can’t afford to feed and liquor forty people.  I will be attempting to make eggnog, cookies and mulled wine(Thanks Barbara) as base items on the buffet. Perhaps their will even be some pizza on the horizon.  Please suggest easy to make apps and desserts or magical hosting tips!

Christmas is Coming!

We have a Christmas tree, it is decorated, there are lights.  It is official.  I am grown up-ish.  The tree may be fake and only four feet tall, but is is cheery.

I am also holding a Holiday party.  There will be wine and food, and if I can make it—Eggnog.

Right now Ankara is cold and dreary and rainy.  I don’t mind the cold so much, but I wish the rain would switch over to snow.  Then the world would be ready for Santa, because I know I am!

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Kurban Bayram…Way Late

Last week was Kurban Bayram or Eid al-Adha, the second religious holiday after Ramadan.  It is a festival of sacrifice, and charity.  Animals, usually sheep and cows, are sacrificed to represent Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.  After the sacrifice a certain percentage of the meat is donated to the poor.  The rest is divided among the family.  We received some very fresh lamb that day.

The other practices of Bayram are family visits and memorial visits.  Usually the first or second day of Bayram the family visits the cemetery and pays respect to their dead.  We (the entire extended) visited the cemetery where Bulent’s grandfather.  The cemetery in Ankara is huge.  There are only two in a city with a population of over four million.  The monuments stretch as far as the eye can see.

The visits start out at the oldest relatives home, and progress down the line.  First his grandmother’s home, then his mother’s, then his Aunt’s and his Uncle’s, then our home.  We visited two homes a day, until we reached ours.  At the visits tea and snacks are served, usually one salty and one sweet.  You can not refuse.  So Bayram becomes a time of visiting and eating, and eating and visiting.

Bayram also coincided with Thanksgiving, which was great.   I only had to work half a day on Thanksgiving and have Friday and Monday off.  We had a great Thanksgiving with friends with all the trimmings.

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Yay for Turkey and stuffing!

Holiday then Bash

Last week was the Kurban Bayram, the Islamic holiday of sacrifice.  I will give details later but I am recovering.  We had a half day of work on Thursday which was great because it coincided with Thanksgiving, then Friday and Monday off.  A short week of work really, but it has really smacked me around. I have not been sleeping well, just waking up in the middle of the the night.  I keep thinking it is time to get up and then it is 2am.  That is the problem about going to work when it is still dark.

The two days off from school apparently gave my students rule amnesia and they have been particularly challenging.  There is also an exam coming up and I am trying to stuff their heads full of knowledge, and they would rather play.  It has made for a stressful week.  Tomorrow I have a conference to go to, so no sleeping in.  However I am looking forward to it, and as I am a participant not a leader I am not expecting it to be a difficult day.  It is weeks like this which make me am glad I love teaching.  Actually liking what I do gives me more patience.

More will be forthcoming about the Kurban Bayram as soon as I am not sleep deprived.

Technological Thanksgiving

I had a lovely Thanksgiving meal tonight.  Bulent and I were invited to a friends, where there was great food, good conversation and good friends.

After I came home I got a call from my parents on Skype.  They had brought their laptop to Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin’s house.  They turned Skype on and then passed me around.  I spoke with my Nana, my parents, my cousins and aunts and uncles.  I spoke to my brother and his random friend who he brought to dinner.

It was fabulous.  I got to see and talk to everyone and feel that even though I am over 5000 miles and 7 time zones away.

Today I am thankful for family, for their love and support, for friends and this amazing adventure I am on.