Christmas shopping at IKEA Istanbul might be a dream outing for some, but it can definitely be a nightmare for others. However, Kim and I had to go, as in this largely Muslim country real Christmas trees are rather rare; I had promised ourselves a real tree this year (in a pot, do not worry) and rumor on internet had it that there were Christmas trees to be found at that oversized Swedish shop in the outskirts of Istanbul. No surprise of course as Scandinavia is home to the Christmas tree and reputations have to be upheld. And yes, there were many Christmas trees, but,…. all disappointingly made of very green and solid plastic. In a bad mood we hurried through the never ending IKEA labyrinth only to be happily surprised at the end, after the large section of beautiful plastic flowers and plants, by some real green stuff. No trees, but green bushes that vaguely could pass for a Christmas tree. It really felt full circle as these bushes were the same as I bought in 1984, during my first Christmas in Baghdad. Christmas balls and Christmas lights do not complain fortunately and Kim and I are quite happy with the result.
30 years of working for the Dutch foreign ministry implies many Christmas celebrations outside the Netherlands. I never minded it. Christmas back home was associated with stress of too many things that were expected, all in the space of a few days, a familiar discussion we all recognize. So whenever I could I stayed abroad and celebrated Christmas outside the Netherlands, but in the local context, with family, visiting friends and lonely colleagues who had stayed behind.
It is impossible to say what the best Christmas celebrations were. Perhaps the ones in Latvia and Norway were the most authentic, with zillions of Christmas trees and meters of real white snow, the snow we in Holland desperately want, but only get every 30 years or so. Christmas in Jerusalem and Bethlehem I will always remember. I stayed for five years in Israel and every Christmas we tried to join the mass in Bethlehem and have dinner at the American Colony hotel; unforgettable and dear to my heart. The singing in Bethlehem was perhaps not the best, but the atmosphere more than compensated for this. Very, very special moments indeed.
And there have been other celebrations, in Oman, in my youth on Aruba; the strangest ones were those in Muslim countries, like in the 80s in Iraq, like now in Turkey because, while writing these few lines, it is sunny outside, 15 degrees and there are hardly any signs whatsoever that it is Christmas eve, except for, with thanks to globalization, in the huge shopping malls. Still there is peace in this diplomat’s heart, with the Christmas like bush in his living room and the church in the complex of the Consulate. This church has been here since 1711 and every Sunday there are three services. Tonight we join the Christmas eve mass and will sing along. As we will do again coming Saturday when the Dutch Association Istanbul will organize a Christmas concert.
Now it is time for Christmas drinks for the staff and an early departure for home.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year or, as one says in Turkey, ‘Mutlu Yillar’.