Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What do you call that green tree in your living room?

The other day one of my American friends back home was grousing about a politician calling Christmas trees "holiday trees." There is a segment of the American public who believes there is a "war on Christmas" and that the news media and corporations are trying to secularize everything and eliminate the joy of saying things to each other like "Merry Christmas."
I pointed out that the politician was trying to be as inclusive as possible by calling it a holiday tree. American Jewish people have been known to enjoy a "Hannukkah Bush" in their home, for example.
During my first Christmas in Turkey I was surprised to learn that "Christmas trees" are everywhere in Istanbul, along with pointsettias, and Santa Claus. My Turkish friends told me they had seen "Christmas trees" in American movies and found the practice so much fun, they've adopted it as their own. Why not? After all, we Americans adopted it from the Germans.
Turkish folks put up their tree for the New Year's holiday and celebrate what they call "Christmas." But of course, since there not actually celebrating Christmas (the birth of Christ) because they're Muslim, Christians in Istanbul are forever pointing out to their friends that "what you have there in your home is not a Christmas tree, it's a New Year's Tree." Do you see why the politician just punted and called it a "holiday tree?" Less arguing, more fun. Rather than being secular, my friend's political representative was just making sure all of the Abrahamic religions were included.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve in Istanbul, Turkey

Singing "Silent Night"
a candlelight Christmas Eve Tradition
all around the world
There were also beautiful soprano and alto solos
and a jazzy saxaphone
Last night I went to the candlelight services of Union Church in Istanbul. It's the oldest Protestant congregation in the city and has been meeting in the cozy Dutch chapel attached to the Dutch consulate on Istiklal Caddessi since 1857. There are as many as 20 nationalities there on any given Sunday: Americans, Brits, South Africans, Netherlanders, Madagascarans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Congolese, Germans, Russians, Slovaks, Moldovans, Australians, just to name a few countries that achieve critical mass in the congregation.

This was an English-language service, although there are also services in Chinese, Turkish and English bilingual services, and another service for the East African community.

Tourists come from all over the world and find weekly services there via the Internet or via the little sign out on Istiklal Caddesi inviting people to English-language church. One week I enjoyed meeting Coptic Christians from Egypt and the next week it was the director of the Fallingwater architectural site in Pennsylvania. It's so interesting to see the variety of people who seek out the church while in Istanbul.

I remember the first Christmas Eve service I celebrated here. The mayor of the Beyoglu neighborhood where the church is located sent plants to all of the churches. I was stunned by how much that signal of acceptance meant to me in a 99% Muslim culture. It made me realize how much just a smile and acknowledgement of someone's right to exist can make to someone who is completely different than me and outnumbered culturally. It is a really, really healthy experience to feel what it feels like to be a minority. 

A particular local gem of candlelight services last night was "The Lord's Prayer" sung in Turkish with Turkish music and rythms. I found it incredibly haunting and powerful. We also sang favorite English-language hymns that would be recognized around the world.

Merry Christmas to all.
Peace and good will to all human kind and our planet.

You may enjoy these other posts from expat Christmases past:

A Neighborhood Christmas

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

Come Join Us for Coffee

Photos courtesy of Pastor Benjamin van Rensburg of Union Church of Istanbul

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

American Mistletoe Growers are Leaving Money on the Table

Glorious Czech mistletoe
on display

One of the Czech Christmas traditions I fell in love with was the way Czechs hang their version of mistletoe. "What do you mean 'their version?'" you might ask. Well, the Czechs have very different mistletoe than Americans. I don't know how that's possible. A plant should be similar everywhere, right?

Mistletoe for sale
in the open air Christmas markets.

You can buy it in it's natural state
or flocked with silver or gold.

American mistletoe, which I have probably purchased once in my life, is, in a word, wimpy. It comes prepackaged in plastic and forms a forgetable round ball about the size of your fist. Most mistletoe is usually purchased for the giggles when it is strategically hung somewhere with young people such as a sorority. It is not a must-buy Christmas tradition for every household and business in the United States. Quick, American readers, tell me exactly where you saw mistletoe for sale in your community. I bet you didn't run across it without asking for it. In the Czech Republic, it's sold everywhere and it's displayed everywhere.

Mistletoe is purchased by all ages.

So I have an idea for American mistletoe growers. You are welcome to take it. I have no intention of using it. I do not aspire to be the American mistletoe maven. All I ask is, if you decide to implement this idea, do something nice for Czech people like start a scholarship fund for Czech students to come to America and study. Heck, maybe this isn't even an idea for Americans, but for Czech businesspeople looking to export.

Fresh mistletoe waiting to be cut
on the roof of a Christmas market booth.

Someone needs to sell this kind of mistletoe in America. I saw it displayed all over Prague in homes and businesses alike, usually hung on the wall with a big fat red ribbon. It was so beautiful. And I could tell, that for Czechs, there was an emotional response and a tradition far beyond mere giggles. This represents beauty, home, tradition. I often saw it displayed in places where Americans would display a traditional wreath. How much money could be made if mistletoe growers captures just 20% of the wreath space in America and supplanted it with mistletoe? Wreaths are nice. Yawn. But I bet America would respond to someone shaking it up a little.

I'm here to serve. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

I was taking a look-see around my new neighborhood and noticed a lovely church that I wanted to see up close. The nameplate said St. Clement's Church, with services in Czech, but also, Anglican services in English at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. I already knew my own denomination wasn't represented in Prague. How fantastic it would be to walk to church! I had to try it out.

A couple weeks ago, I went into this beautiful old church and was warmly received by the congregants. The church bells were pealing with enthusiasm calling the neighborhood to worship. It was a cold morning, and my hands were already cold from a morning walk around the neighborhood. They didn't warm up during the service! I discovered later that each seat has it's own individual heater and you just dial up what you need.

The building is thought to have been the site of Christian worship for the last 1,000 years. I haven't heard a date for how old the building is, but the frescos in the apse date from the 14th century. During the Enlightenment, the church was used as a granary, which doesn't sound all that enlightened, does it? It was restored in 1894-1896 to it's present Neo-Gothic style.

Later that night, I went back for St. Clement's Lessons and Carols. Episcopalian friends had always told me how beautiful "Lessons and Carols" are at Christmas time. This was my first time experiencing this Christmas tradition for myself.

Numerous children started the evening off with a fun version of "The Little Drummer Boy" complete with a march down the aisle, plenty of coffee cans, and various drumming instruments to clang away to their heart's content. To hear the congregation booming out those carols in this beautiful ancient building was a wonderful moment, one where I could really feel the Christmas spirit.

There were probably about 100 parishioners. We went down the street for mulled wine, treats, and conversation afterwards and I could tell there wouldn't be anymore church shopping for me. Everyone was just too welcoming. I felt at home.

Expat churches are different than regular churches. A lady told me that the previous rector had been in charge for seven years and had never once done a funeral because expats always go home when they reach that age. So there is also not the usual contingent of "little old ladies" that make up most churches back home. Not that there's anything wrong with little old ladies.

She also asked me if I noticed how male the voices were when we sang. English-speaking men, married to Czech women, often come to church solo because Czechs are atheists, thanks to communism, and don't participate in church as a family. So the guys come by themselves for worship and to enjoy an English-speaking environment for awhile.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Neighborhood Christmas

Merry Christmas from my neighborhood square in Prague! One of the lovely things about living in a large European city is the wonderful hidden squares that exist all over the city. There isn't a downtown with a main focus; just lots of little charming focal points scattered everywhere.

I've enjoyed walking by this tree this season. It's very quiet at night. Rarely is anyone there. It creates an incredibly peaceful sensation. Often, horse and buggies carrying tourists from Old Town come and loop around the square so the whole neighborhood gets to hear the clip clop of the horse hooves on cobblestones. Fantastic!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Art Deco Elegance in Old Town Prague

You didn't think I was going to show you the
doors of the Hotel Imperial
and not take you inside, did you?

Beautiful sculptures hold up the front desk.
A quiet bar is off to the left.

Just a hint of the tiled floor.

I don't know what you would call this style.
I call it "Egyptian Deco."

Another pretty Christmas decoration:
a wreath of straw pigs, citrus,
and gingerbread.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Come and Join us for Coffee

The invitation read..."we meet weekly at a different historic Prague cafe. This week we're meeting at the Cafe Imperial. I think you'll enjoy it's over-the-top decor..."

If there is something I love about Prague it is this wonderful coffeehouse culture leftover from the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It turned out the Cafe Imperial was in my new neighborhood. This was my first chance to see something where I'd be living when I moved into my new flat.

I can not pretend that
I am not stunned by beauty;
the Cafe Imperial is jaw-droppingly beautiful
the exquisite ceiling mosaics

A larger view of the setting
and ceramic tile

I ordered Algerian coffee,
something new to me.

It promised eggnog on the bottom.
"This won't be eggnog as you know it, but eggnog liquor.
It's even better."

"Better than eggnog, is that possible?"
"It is. You'll see."
It is.

Filip and Tomas made the whole experience fantastic.
They could give customer service lessons all over Prague.

The cafe Imperial is not just a coffeehouse,
but a restaurant.
I may have to go back just to try
the roasted pigeon.

The art deco mosaics go back to 1914.
The entire restaurant is newly restored.

Inspiring elegance in the bathrooms

The restaurant was decked out for Christmas
with these wonderful citrus and straw decorations.

Did you know that an orange slice
could be so elegant?

Through these gorgeous doors
is the Hotel Imperial -
just as exquisite.

You might also enjoy:

Art Deco Elegance in Old Town Prague

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yea! We're Done with Our TEFL Course!

St. Wenceslas Square was packed with
revelers - the energy downtown
was fantastic as we celebrated the
end of our studies

Three devils: Dannielle, Anna, and Adam

Having fun with Anna

Heaters help people enjoy
a sidewalk cafe
in the middle of December
in Old Town Square

Christmas Markets are scattered all around town
The most common offerings are kielbasa,
grilled corn-on-the-cob, hot wine, grog, and mead.

These beautiful children were definitely angels, not demons,
singing in exquisite harmony a song
by the famous Czech composer Smetana.

No photo can do this gorgeous tree justice.
It had shooting stars.

Adam, the photographer, knows how to make everyone laugh.

Anna and Justin

Yea! We're done!

Two reasons to celebrate on St. Mikalus Day

On the last day of my TEFL class, work was gladly interrupted for a visit from our own in-house St. Mikalus. I knew nothing of the Czech custom but a Czech friend told me this would be the first of many St. Mikaluses I would see that day. Czech children have been raised on stories of St. Mikalus and look forward to seeing him and performing a song or a poem for him before receiving their treat for being a good boy or girl that year.

Naughty children don't get candy. They receive potatoes or a lump of coal. And if they have been really, really naughty they are placed into the devil's sack and will be sent straight to hell.

It makes me laugh thinking about this because I really and truly remember worrying when I was a kid about whether or not I would get coal for Christmas. How about you?

Teenagers seem to have the most fun with this holiday. You can tell that many of them labored on their costumes for hours, carefully applying tin foil to their Mikalus staffs and cotton balls to their beards. Demons seemed to far outnumber angels. On the metro, they were all giggles in their costumes which of course made everyone else giggle too.

Here are a few of the angels and demons we saw along the way on St. Mikalus Day. In my next post, I'll share pics of our group in Old Town Square enjoying the spectacle of it all.

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