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.

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!