December 25, 2011

Christians in Turkey Long for Christmas Spirit

The twinkling lights of Christmas may brighten the streets of Istanbul, but for many of the Muslim city's Christian minorities celebrating the holidays can prove challenging.

In celebrating Christmas in Istanbul, the issue is not one of restriction of religious expression or lack of opportunities, various Christians told Sunday's Zaman. In fact, Christianity has a rich history in Anatolia, the birthplace of many Christian Apostles and saints like Paul of Tarsus and Nicholas of Myra. A total of 65,000 Armenian Orthodox, 15,000 Syriac Orthodox, 8,000 Chaldean Catholic and 2,500 Greek Orthodox believers reside in Turkey. There are also members of other denominations, such as Bulgarian Orthodox and Georgian Orthodox along with Protestants.

The republic has taken a number of long-overdue steps to expand the rights of its Christian minorities, such as the decision to return property belonging to non-Muslim foundations that was confiscated after 1936.

Despite all this some Christians said they still long for the sense of community that most consider inherent to the holidays.

The landscape of Istanbul around this time of year resembles that of any Western city that marks the Christian holiday. Strings of white lights drape the facades of buildings, evergreens dressed in colorful balls and garland adorn homes and hotels and inflatable Frosty-the-Snowman and toy Santa Claus (Baba Noel) figures smile from store shelves.

But for some Christians the “New Year” decorations, as they are called in Turkey, is a strange concept.

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