We had a Christmas program at the university late Friday afternoon that consisted of an American singer/guitarist who looked, sounded and played like John Denver and was backed by a choir of six students. They capably performed several holiday standards and a couple of originals, after which faculty and staff mingled over refreshments. For some, especially poorly paid staff members, an event with food is an opportunity to heap a plate and scoot out before you’re noticed.
So far, the Christmas holiday build-up here has been pleasant because, unlike the States, you don’t have it beaten over your head. The manic frenzy of Christmas in West, its grubby materialism and unrealistic emotional expectations, make it almost impossible to appreciate the profound but subtle seasonal shift in light and darkness that calls for—almost begs for—your quiet and rapt attention. That is easier done here, because Christmas, at least so far, is more like an option you can choose on your terms.
Earlier this week, a Christmas tree, maybe 30 feet in height, was erected and strung with colored and flashing lights in Ala-too Square in the center of the city. Some businesses and restaurants have decorated for the holidays; some were putting their lights up only today. There is holiday gift-giving here, but it occurs on New Year and is largely symbolic, usually a single item, according to a Kyrgyz colleague. As I mentioned earlier, New Years, not Christmas, is the centerpiece of the holiday season here.
And if you want an even better indication of the difference, ol’ Scrooge himself is going to host a winter solstice/Christmas party—and on the 25th no less!