When frosted grass fields greet you in the morning, when pre-dawn fogs replace the smoke of burned leaves, and when your (American) neighbors visit you to carol… then you know, it’s Christmas time around the globe. Only here you are always welcome, together with mayana you have no equal! Even in Tashkent.
I am a Christmas guy. I love the smell of oranges, cinnamon, ginger bread, cookies and glühwein around the house. I love the lights in our and other peoples’ houses and most of all, I love to see the twinkle in our kids’ eyes when they see the Christmas tree lit up in all its glory. Oh, tannenbaum.
Back home (and I mean both countries) it’s fairly easy to see Christmas everywhere. Lights on houses, inside coffee shops, along Michigan Avenue, my beloved (German) Christmas markets announce the Holiday season rather early. Not so much in Uzbekistan. I was surprised to see Christmas decorations during my latest trip to the supermarket last Sunday on December 10. So how is Advent and Christmas celebrated in a majority Muslim formerly Soviet country?
Well, to start off with, the good stuff… Here, I appreciate the lack of cardboard Santas, Christmas candy, and kitchy decorations that usually start to pop up in late August back home. It was rather nice not to have to listen to Jingle Bells while running errands in October or November. But, starting in December, I realized that there would not be many decorations around Tashkent. No lights in or on houses, no special Christmas cookies to buy at the markets, and no Christmas tree sale at the local (imaginary) Christmas Tree bazar. But that’s okay – because Christmas is still going to happen at home. Having said this, shortly after we indulged in the last Thanksgiving treats, we went to work and decorated our house with lights, garland, stars and more. Luckily, I flew to Frankfurt for business meetings in late October, so we also had Glühwein spices readily available. Below are some photos to give you an idea of how we celebrated our newly decorated, quite festive looking house.
Once December started, we began to realize how busy the Christmas season within the diplomatic community can be. We are basically booked every weekend with Christmas get-togethers and official holiday events. To start December off the right way, we went to the Christmas market at the German Embassy in Tashkent. Imported bratwürste, genuine Glühwein, local and German arts and crafts and even German split pea soup were waiting for hungry and curious customers. Leaving the market with an overdose of bratwurst in our tummies gave us enough energy to get into cookie baking marathons over the following days. We even built a homemade ginger bread house, though it survived our desire for holiday treats for just a few days.
I mentioned earlier that during my last shopping trip I saw the first holiday-ish looking decorations pop up. So how do the locals celebrate Christmas? They don’t. Uzbekistan is a majority Muslim country, so Christmas is not being celebrated. So why the decorations? During Soviet times, the cultural traditions adopted in the early twentieth century borrowed a few Christmas traditions as part of the Soviet secular New Year celebration. This includes the decoration of a fir tree, family gatherings, good food (lots of mandarins in Uzbekistan!) and the visit of “Ded Moros” (Дед Мороз), or Grandfather Frost, who delivers presents to the children on New Year’s Eve. Oh, and of course there is Coca Cola. A brand that is slowly spreading the Santa Clause cheer around the globe. Perhaps this is why “Ded Moros” changed his outfit from white to red?
Either way – Merry Christmas, Fröhliche Weihnachten and С новым годом!