Every year at this time I reread A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas – read it now if you never have, you can find it online, it is brilliant – and this year, for fun, I’m writing an expat version. It’s in four parts, here’s the first part.
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So they ask me, from the festively bloated, garland wrapped lands of relentless cheer in the west – What is Christmas like in the sunshine lands; in the minaret spiked, imam yodelling, Mediterranean washed shores where reindeer never prance?
Do the Christmas elves slide, not skip, through the cobbled streets of Muslim koylar with presents surreptitiously swaddled away from sight? Do merry making foreigners lace Turkish tea with strong spirits and sip in secret in their grottos bright with imported baubles and soulful with the digital recordings of absent carollers – the service of nine lessons and carols hummed in hushed harmony?
Well yes; and no. This world is wide and wonderful and welcoming and whilst we slim the trappings down we celebrate still, in groups and cabals, cliques and couples, coming together with familiar festive feelings in an expat Christmas in Turkey.
Turkey, being ever obliging to guests in this land, produced snow on cue this year. As the cranberries and sultanas swelled in harsh wine and strong spice for my Christmas cake baking the wind swung to the north and set the ice gnomes marching from their Norways and the great white cold walked abroad in an astounded Aegean.
First pebble hard grains in salt shower clouds, blowing around the streets of the koy; sending the horrified locals hurrying home accompanied by the scream of chainsaws frantically building the woodpiles for the hungry, hungry sobas.
Then showers of clumping white, drifting in spirals on the suddenly cold air, whisking around the bright heads of confused geraniums, teasing the whiskery branches of the pine trees. And I happily baked my cake. Mixed the vic sharp scent of cloves with the warmth of cinnamon and vanilla and stirred and wished and stirred some more a summer tan mix with thin grape molasses instead of good black British treacle.
And my stone house with its honey walls and sun bleached terracotta roof feels like home, smells like home, like remembered childhoods in Wales where the short days of December rush headlong dawn to dusk and the house smells of scorched baking paper mixed with the rich fruit cake that takes, it seems, a week to bake with much prodding and testing and just five minutes more decision making.
With the cat on the rug in front of the fire and snow flakes drifting against the pine frocked hills and Christmas smells sending the memories rising like bubbles it doesn’t feel as far from home as it should, as it will, tomorrow, when the Wedgewood sky returns to blue bowl us over with its foreign light on bright and unsuitably sunny yuletide days.
….to be continued