I was raised in a household that was interested in learning about people from other countries, including the culture, traditions and beliefs of those people. We weren’t interested in making judgments about what they chose to celebrate or how they chose to do so. It was fun to make a dish from another land, dress up in different attire, or listen to new music while learning about and observing various holidays. Through Girl Scouts, school and at home, I was eager to celebrate people around the world as much as possible, and I guess I took this interest for granted. I now realize how lucky I was to be encouraged to expand my mind and think about others all over the globe, rather than settle for the idea that one culture is the only way, and the only right way. This interest also fosters respect for others and a quest for understanding which I am grateful to be on.
This year I find myself in a predominantly Muslim country, where December 24th and 25th are working days as usual. There are some festive decorations in the shopping mall, in honor of the coming New Year, but it has been raining now for a week straight, which makes it feel more like fall than winter. The evenings are chilly, but tomorrow temperatures are projected in the sixties. I wish I could send some of this moisture to Oklahoma, where I know it is needed. Although, the blizzard that’s supposed to blow in there just in time to make this year’s Christmas white does sound romantic and exciting.
Regardless of the fact that there are very few others around Osmaniye observing the holiday I know best, this year’s holiday season has been filled with merriment. We attended wedding festivities this past weekend, and were embraced by a large Turkish family. It was wonderful getting to spend two days with them, eating and dancing, conversing and laughing. Plus, it was an excuse to dress up, which to me comes with the season.
I found the perfect little Christmas tree—or New Year’s tree, whichever you prefer—at the grocery store just in time to get it decked. Thanks to the Fulbrighter who lived here last year, we also dug up a strand of glittery imitation lights and some jingle bells to adorn the tree. In addition, there was a stocking and a Christmas candle, so we are set. Along with the massive amounts of citrus fruit (33 pounds were brought to us this weekend by Eda’s aunt and uncle) and nuts, two of my most beloved symbols of Christmas, our home is now quite festive.
One of my favorite activities of the holidays is baking, so after choosing a Pandora Christmas station I fired up our little oven and got to it. Since this is our last week of classes before finals and before the students’ winter break, and because it’s comforting and fun, I decided to whip up chocolate chip cookies for a significant portion of my students, roughly 200 of them. (Recipe note: I have long been a lover of the Neiman Marcus style of adding coffee to my chocolate chip and nut cookies, and in Turkey this works perfectly, since Turkish coffee is already finely ground and just waiting around in excess. And I feel like some of my students get excited when they see such an ingredient listed. They seem to appreciate anything distinctly Turkish.)
Having lived in Germany and spent two Christmases there, missing my German (host) families and friends as well as German Christmas traditions, and generally finding these treats to be spectacular, I couldn’t resist preparing my favorite, Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars), even if I did neglect to bring along a star-shaped cookie cutter. This year’s batch will be a modest round cookie, but nonetheless promise the same almond-packed goodness. Discover these simple yet amazing cookies by making your own! Find the recipe here.
Eda, Eric and I put together a nice holiday shindig, complete with an expansive dinner (which included leftover çig köfte—raw beef—more on that later), French vin, the baked goods, Turkish coffee and tea, and delightful apricot-preserve-filled donuts sprinkled in powdered sugar. We played Christmas tunes, wore our şalvar pants (as many folks do around these parts; some of you might feel inclined to refer to them as MC Hammer pants…), opened presents and stockings (one of which was one of my personal stockings, but it worked great!), and felt festive. It was quite a success.
My biggest Christmas gift this year will be getting to spend some time with my dear family, who is patiently awaiting my return to Oklahoma for a visit. I cannot wait. See you so soon, family!
Wherever you are in the world, and whichever holiday you choose to celebrate, be it one, none, or many, may it be peaceful, joyous, and delightful—and hopefully accompanied by some scrumptious baked goods.