Translating a Holiday

One of the things that regularly drives me distracted is the constant mixing up of Christmas and New Years in Turkey. I’ve even mentioned it before. But my perspective is changing, a little, with time.

First there’s the fact that many of the traditions associated with Christmas actually came from other festivals.

The date of the 25th December was specifically chosen so the early Church could ‘compete’ with several other pagan festivals that feel at this time of year. The Christmas tree came from Germany, only brought to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Some say the decorations on it related to the Garden of Eden but many link it to pagan traditions of bringing greenery into the house.

Santa Claus is related to St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Turkey. He used to drop money down the chimneys of poor houses to provide dowries for daughters wishing to get married.

There are many things now associated with Christmas that originally belonged to different holidays and different belief systems.

So it really shouldn’t upset me when Turks adopt these same traditions to their own New Year celebration. In fact some of the traditions may be moving closer to their origins in being associated with a secular holiday as opposed to a religious one.

Let there be New Year trees and decorations and and presents and turkey for dinner and Father Christmas. And I can adopt the Turkish traditions of wearing red underwear and playing Bingo (tombala) for New Year too, well maybe…

What really gets me is when the two holidays are used interchangeably. It happens in movie translations in particular. Is the kid home alone for Christmas or New Year? It’s never quite clear. On the one hand it makes sense to translate the holiday as the one most Turks recognize – New Year. But that ignores the traditions they haven’t adopted and are more directly related to the Christian Christmas – going to mass, carols in the church and so on.

As a result, you get devout Muslims denouncing New Year as a Christian feast and it all gets very confusing.

The real question is whether these traditions are being adopted in a natural way or whether they are being forced on people by retailers. While films and television shows have a powerful influence in showing people the wonderful cosy image of Christmas, I’m inclined to think retailers have the upper hand. The idea of exchanging gifts is gaining ground and as far as I can see it’s purely down to relentless television advertising.

The ironic thing is that Christmas shopping was introduced to Turkey by a Jewish business man, Vitali Hakko. He began decorating his shops in Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul and persuaded the city council to string up lights. Now whole districts are lit up. This year Nisantasi has a toy shop theme.

When you consider how Christmas elsewhere has been influenced by retailers, again, there’s no point in getting annoyed by Turkish retailers hopping on the same gravy train. Christmas was once a small, important religious celebration that has morphed into a commercial giant.

And commercialism will always spread….

The Loot