Dec 25 2016 by Norris Burkes
This Christmas, if you want to uncover the tradition of St. Nicholas, I suggest you look toward the town of Demere, Turkey. After all, that’s where this fourth-century Episcopal saint got his start.
I visited Demere in 1998 while I was stationed in Izmir, Turkey, as an Air Force chaplain. While you’d find Demere a rather modest city, you need only visit the larger tourist cities to see the fascinating way the Muslims have duplicated the Western culture of Christmas.
I say “fascinating,” not because these places are shining examples of what Christmas should be. The intriguing thing about these Turkish cities is how accurately they’ve recreated the greed of Western materialism.
My wife and I walked hand-in-hand through Turkish shopping districts, blowing frosty breaths along the coal-dusted streets. We found Christmas displays to be nearly identical to everything we have in the States or in the shopping districts of any nice European city.
The Turks are masters at reproduction and the store windows were full of the same products sold in U.S. stores. The shops offered fine jewelry, furniture and fashion. Yet only the richest Turks could afford these goods.
Christmas was no different than in the United States. And that was the problem.
In the midst of a country rich in heritage and culture (99.8 percent Muslim), the Turks had managed to duplicate all the rapacious things the American culture brings to the holiday.
I had to ask myself, how had we managed to export into the world markets nearly everything about Christmas? Many cultures, like Turkey, got our tinseled trees, bows, bulbs and Santa suits. But somehow, we failed to export the most valued commodity of Christmas: that God came bringing peace on Earth and good will.
It seems to me that if we honor the one whose name the holy day represents, then we are obliged to export the most important product of the holiday — peace. The kind of peace that is so beautifully illustrated in that well-worn story told by Stanley Weintraub, author of “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.”
Weintraub tells of a wartime Christmas when “the Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols.”
The British responded in like chorus and “by Christmas morning, the ‘no-man’s land’ between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines.”
For a few precious moments, there was peace on Earth and good will toward men. The soldiers managed to share the best part of Christmas, the peace part that has the potential to challenge and change people. It happened more than 2,000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. And it can happen every time peace is presented as the real gift.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 may seem more like Christmas tripe, but it is my prayer that it will become a hint on a day when we may reverse the common saying that suggests “peace is harder to wage than war.”
Merry Christmas to you and yours and a Happy New Year. And to all my Turkish friends, Mutlu Noel.
Write Norris at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call (843) 608-9715.