12/01/2013

Happy New Year, or Christmas or Whatever

I do feel a pang of remorse for publicly ridiculing this guy, or do I?

Happy, albeit belated New Year to all. I appreciate that I've been AWOL for the last month and a half, but I guess the city "got me" - as it tends to do periodically. The first major challenge of the year has been for me to clamber out of this spiral of public transport, 9-5 stress, five part-time jobs and various other duties that once upon a time I had a certain degree of mastery over, but which has now become thoroughly derailed thanks to a series of pointless public celebrations and natural occurrences that only serve to wreck everything I've been working on quicker than you can say "we should go to [inconvenient place] on [inconvenient time]".

Yes, yes, I know I should just chill out - it's New Year, or Christmas, or a snow day or whatever, and we have the day off. Yet, making time to write meandering articles on Turkey, drinking tea, and filling out the daily crossword in the Vatan newspaper, are the only three things which help keep me sane enough to deal with all the other stuff on my quite busy schedule. 

Since all the holidays, flights to England, days off, nights out and mornings asleep, I've had the order disturbed and so little meaningful free-time, that short term financial goals and career stuff seems to be phasing out my, let's face it, actual goals of being a self-righteous journalist-type, snooping around in other people's business and commenting on things I've read by other self-righteous journalist-types, snooping around in other people's business, whilst simultaneously drinking tea and filling out the daily crossword in the Vatan newspaper.

If you are reading this post in or around August, and it is still featuring fairly prominently on the home page, needless to say that I have failed. Thanks for your time.

New Year in Eminönü

For me and my Bakırköy posey, it seemed like a good idea to go to a party organised by a friend of a friend in the rather unsuspecting Eminönü, the old part of the city on the Golden Horne, specifically the part next to Kadir Has University, where there was a small club with a roof, which had a spectacular view of the Galata Bridge, the tower and the even the Christmas fireworks at Nişantaşa on the other side of the city. 

The party took place in an old four story house which had already been shelled out to make way for a club space with a bar down stairs and a deejay area from whence songs such as the hit dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud-dud eminated. Yes, it was electro, but this is suprisingly bearable after half an hour. The genius factor that brought crowds to this unusual venue in the first place, was its bring-your-own-drinks policy. So simple, yet I'm sure the place wouldn't have got half as crowded otherwise. 

Wait, Christmas?

Yes, I said Christmas and I meant it. Turkish takes a French borrowing for Christmas, Noel - but it's usage denotes the New Year, which can get extremely annoying when one realises just how ingrained is the belief that the two are the same. 

Now, general ignorance, as much as what is defined as trivia, changes from place-to-place. With this in mind, I don't arrogantly begrudge Turkey that its people should know everything about Christian or Western holidays anymore than I should know the name of the ancient Sumerian Goddess for water, which has two letters, and appears in every daily edition of the Vatan newspaper crossword. What is relevant here, is that I don't suppose I will ever care enough to look into Sumerian religious practices, and so I shouldn't expect a vast majority of Turks to care about the date of the pagan winter solace, or who invented the Gregorian calendar. 

It's the insidiousness of those who planted the ignorance in the first place that frustrates me, and is contributing to a certain amount of tension. By insidiousness, I am of course, pointing an accusatory finger at the retail sector, smarting from the unfair advantage enjoyed by their foreign rivals in the form of Christmas shopping revenues - especially as no-one has the energy to shop during Ramadan. New/YearChristmas trees, lights and Happy New Year/Christmas messages plastered everywhere, and even - this year - a Santa's Grotto, are up in all major shopping centres in Istanbul. Street vendors jump onto the band-wagon by selling tinsel and Santa hats alongside the standard cigarettes, tissues and umbrellas, and thus everything in-between these two tiers gets engulfed in a deracinated, kind of forced Christmas spirit. 

Of course, Christmas has undergone its own transformation in the West, and is not really celebrated in a religious way - thus making my criticism a little redundant. The Guardian's Owen Hatherly described it best, Christmas is just 'a catch-all term for a combination of a millennia-old midwinter gathering and a hypercapitalist festival of consumption, which dates from late 19th-century America, [sic] most likely a Christian rebranding of a pagan festival'.


However irreligious the Western brand of Christmas has become, it is not quite so deceitfully imposed. No-one here ever believed in Santa Claus as a child. No one got a school holiday. No one fought over decorating the Christmas tree with their parents, nor woke up early to peak at their presents. There were no presents, and there won't be this year. In fact, this year I couln't get a holiday to go and see my parents on the day itself, even if there were decorations in the office. However, advertising would have you believe t'is the season to be jolly. Check out the IKEA advert on the right, where several Santas sing about Yeni Yıl - New Year - with a ho, ho, ho. Utterly alien to any reference point from most Turkish people's lives.

Not that advertising ever does portray real life quite the way it is, but at least it should have some kind of reference point to relate to people. Here, the reference is being created before our eyes, when in reality, the only Turks decorating their houses and getting Christmas are either those who have lived abroad for a while and have contracted Christmas, or the slim, yet outspoken, posh, cultured, "we are so European" types, who exchange a few gifts on New Year's day.

Tension

The annoying thing however, is not the fact of its deceit, or its naked capitalist cunning, but the fact that the societal tension created by Christmas is unknowingly based upon a deceit and nothing but naked capitalist cunning. What one might call a post hoc fallacy.

Because Turkey's New Year, by which I strictly mean the 1st January, has been given Christian-trappings, with Capitalist funding and Kemalist approval. In other words, a union of the three things that make conservative Muslims go nuts, hence the main picture of this article. If you look above, the young man is standing in Eminönü with a sign saying "Muslims don't celebrate Christmas". This was taken on New Year's eve, and addressed to everyone going out and having a good time to welcome the New secular Year, which, as aforementioned, does not represent a religious holiday, despite being given the trappings of one close-by, which inspires a lot of shopping.

In a moment of playfulness, I called over to the man, identified by Milli Gazete as Osman Emre Miyasoğlu,  feinting ignorance in the name of simplicity and saying "brother, you're a week late!". He looked confused so I continued, "I support you, believe me, but Christmas was last week". He nodded, and walked away. I do regret my smugness, but I could not resist. For, if those who Christmercialised the New Year are guilty of deceit, then the Islamists are equally guilty of taking 'Noel' at face value and misleading their own followers into condemning New Year for theological reasons. This is followed by all sorts of allegations that miss the real point, such as the Vatican is hiding the true identity of the original Saint Nicholas, an Egyptian pervert who crept into people's houses in the mid-second century to sneak a peak.

I walked into class after having gone home on the weekend before Christmas to tell the students why I went away. "Christmas", I said. This led to five-minutes of murmuring and quiet debate, as 'Noel', at that point, was not for two weeks. It was one of my smartest students, Güzin - a hijabi, incidentally - who by the end, simply explained "New Year, Thanksgiving, Christmas, we just shove it all in one as an excuse to get-together". Just then, smart-alec Emre piped-up: "So, what are we doing for Easter?"

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