For us Expats, Christmas can often be a difficult time. Many of us take the opportunity to travel home, those who are unable to do so bring their home country customs with them and celebrate, often without their nearest and dearest to share the festivities. Here in Azerbaijan, a secular but predominantly Muslim country, Christmas as we know it, is not celebrated. In fact, it is a normal working day. Instead, according to Russian tradition, Old Father Frost who looks suspiciously like Father Christmas, and his granddaughter, pretty Snegurochka, visit families and leave presents under the richly decorated New Year Tree, indistinguishable from our Christmas Tree, on New Year’s Eve, which is a national holiday here and, much like at home, is celebrated with fireworks.
But hang on, when exactly is Christmas? In the UK and the USA it’s on the 25th of December, in Germany and many other European countries, the tree is lit in the evening of 24th December. In parts of Europe, Saint Nicholas, or as we know him, Santa Claus, leaves presents during the night of 5th to 6th December. Sometimes he brings a companion with him, Krampus or Black Peter, whose role is to frighten naughty children into good behavior. On 12th of December, Scandinavians celebrate St. Lucia, a young woman who comes with a crown of candles and brings sweets. The Apostolic Christmas is on Epiphany, the 6th January, the Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7th January, according to the Gregorian calendar. Pagans celebrate Yule and the Winter Solstice, Buddhist’s Bodhi on 8th December, Hindu Diwali, the festival of lights and enlightenment, takes place a little earlier, in October/November. The Jewish Hannukah is celebrated between late November and early January. Then there’s the ancient Persian Sadeh, 50 days before Novruz, a mid-winter feast to honor fire and to defeat the forces of darkness, frost and cold, and the Zoroastrian Chahar Shanbeh Suri which marks the importance of the light over the darkness. In January/February, we have the Chinese New Year with its dragons to ward off evil spirits and so the list goes on, segueing into the new year and spring festivals.
Whichever religion and tradition we follow, whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Animists or Pagans, at what is the darkest and leanest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, we all celebrate the banishment of evil and the rebirth of enlightenment and good. We do so by feasting with our families and communities, exchanging gifts of appreciation and lighting symbolic fires and candles to warm us and show us the way forward and, in the spirit of goodwill, we count our blessings and give thanks for happiness, health, well being, safety and peace. When all is said and done, this is what really counts, goodwill to all mankind.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whichever particular date is most important to you, I wish you every joy and good fortune for these days of celebration, the new Julian calendar year ahead and beyond. May the spirit of all things good be with you! If, like me, you are far from your family and can’t be with the ones you love, carry them in your heart and simply love the ones you’re with (to paraphrase the old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song), it works every time!
Over the next couple of week or so, I will repost some older blog posts to refresh your memory of nice places In Baku and maybe reblog the odd interesting post by other bloggers. Then, fresh in the New Year, I’ll be back with new reviews, profiles and reflections.
Merry Christmas and a joyful, happy 2015!