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A Merry Christmas to You All in Turkey

 by Seda TOKSOY

Christmas especially in big cities became a taste of the life of many Turks although they are not Christians. The ones buying Christmas trees are the ones having ID cards with "Muslim" written on carrying bags full of ornaments easily purchased from malls. The trees are ornamented with a festival mood and stay till the first days of New Year. Of course there are so many thinking this new habit as "showing off". However although the ones ornamenting the tree with great pleasure don't know this pine tree ritual's history dates back before Christianity. Its roots are in Anatolia as many mythological figures and rituals still alive today in Christianity.

A tragic love story: From a handsome boy to a pine tree
Zeus has fallen in love with Kybele. However when he was not succeeded to be with her left his seeds to a rock and hermaphrodite Agditis is of this seeds. Dionysus had him drunk and castrated. An almond tree has been grown from the male organ of Agditis. The daughter of Sanrious (today's Sakarya) river got pregnant by the fruits of this tree and given birth to Attir. This young man of gods has a seductive beauty and both Kybele and Agditis were fallen in love with him. Agditis maddened Attis as once Dionysus has done to him. And the handsome boy killed himself by cutting his penis under a pine tree. Kybele buried him just there and begged to Zeus not to destroy his beautiful body. Zeus has accepted her prayers and Attis continued to live in a pine tree. Pine symbolizes the transformed figure of Attis or the phallus of God.

Tree is a very strong symbol at most cultures. The soil it extends its roots represents, underground, its trunk symbolize this world ad the branches reaching the sky. Namely embraces all dimensions of being. The seasonal rotation, seem as dead but later giving buds and flowers resembles us death and life, sterility and abundance. Naturally it is not a coincidence to immortalize such desired Attis.

This myth, also explains the origin of priests' castrating themselves due to the loss of control on consciousness with transforming rituals (probably the first circumcision) in Kybele cult. The pine log presented to Kybele temple have probably ornamented by descriptions of painted and shining sex organs of the castrated priests. For three centuries after Christ, Christmas had not been celebrated. However, after long discussions it was adopted on the 4th century. December 25th, re-birth of mythological Attis, is close to winter equinox. The pine ornament tradition on Christmas has been adopted from Kybele priests whose cult dating back to Rome period.

What about Saint Nicholas, as Turks call "Noel Baba" (Father Christmas)
Our dear St. Nicholas was born in Patara, a Lykian neighborhood city of Demre. He was a bishop in the 4th century. After his death he was declared as the Guardian Saint of sailors, tradesmen, bakers and Russian Empire, however first of all the Saint of all the children he loved. Reputedly, he has big pockets sewn on his cloak, filled with candy and fruits to hand out every child he met. Besides his extraordinary love of humanity he was also known with his healing ability based on miracles. His fame goes beyond Myra and his church was filled with people looking for healing even after years of his death. The person in charge at the church sells to those people a small bottle of "myr" oil, for healing purposes where the origin of the name Myra.

Demre, a small but important allocation unit is located 48 kilometers east of South-west Mediterranean's famous holiday village Kaş. It was once called Myra and one of the most important cities of Lykia of Classical Era. As in most places in Anatolia past and present cuddles up in Demre. Consequently the big theater leaning against the mountains, rock graves, even St. Nicholas's church, greenhouses and country houses are almost mixed together. Myra like a painting presenting us leafs of history. The beloved St. Nicholas still protects his place in people's hearts. However it is hard to say the same thing for his mortal body and church. The church has been ruined by earthquakes, restored then again destroyed by Arabian attacks and finally had its latest figure with the restoration by Turkish Government in 60ies.

In the 11th century tradesmen of Bari gathered the remaining bones of St. Nicholas and take them back to their country and built a very famous pilgrimage church on them. However his spirit is still here! Go and breath the soft air of Demre, you are going to feel him there.

Who is Kybele?
Anatolia has been a land where Mother Goddess cult was dominant until the Gods took place of Goddesses in Pantheon. First descriptions of Mother Goddess resembling today's traditional Turkish Women figures are being exhibited in museums. Sits on her throne with large hips representing fertility. Animals of power stand by with pride. One of her first known names is Hepat. Later Hittites prefixed "Kub" to the name, meaning hill, and peak for temples have been built on mountains and becomes Kubhepa. This name transferred to "Kybele" by Phrygians. Her figure slandered and grew in a "slim" women type that you can meet at "Akmerkez" rather on rural areas. Still has widespread acceptance and great respect. However as appearance has got free of the "Motherly" look on the throne and participated to real life. Somehow like businesswomen of our days with a free understanding. Her descriptions are now makes us think the active role of women in daily social managing. The Goddess continued her transforming and lived on many features of Near-East originated Artemis. Kybele, Artemis ad Egypt Goddess Isis, have all been combined in a pot at Anatolia. The original version of Artemis have become the protective Goddess of Ephesus, the most important city of ancient Greek after they mixed with the people of Anatolia: Artemis Ephesia. She was much more different than usual version who is rushing in the forest. Standing on her feet strongly, nestling the wild nature and stars on her chest, carrying the big city she protects over her head. Her cult strike roots and her temple being one of the Seven Wonders of World was built in Ephesus. Isn't it interesting that Artemis Temple and House of Virgin Mary, a popular pilgrimage for Catholics are only a few kilometers away from each other?

All through the history, man has not skipped from one belief to another as pawns in a chess play. Some effects of "old" were changed and transferred to "new" and continued to exist. It was almost impossible to persuade Ephesians to give up building temples to their Goddess. Who knows probably Artemis of Ephesus continued living in certain characteristics of Virgin Mary. A sacred fountain with healing water stands on the garden of the House of Virgin Mary. Artemis' close companions water nymphs form one of Pagans' water cult. In time Virgin Mary was then associated with healing and sacred water.

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Latest comments about this article

 By greteroland  25.9.2013

I love the article, but I would also love to edit it to correct the grammar.

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