header image
Home arrow Homeland arrow Turkey arrow Tur Abdin arrow Christmas in Arbo
Christmas in Arbo PDF Print E-mail

Isa Sumer from Arbo
 Isa Sumer was born in the village of Arbo in Tur Abdin, the last Christian enclave in the southeastern part of Turkey. When he was thirteen years old, he left his homeland together with his parents and came to Holland. Till 2006 he was councillor in the city council of Enschede. Isa has been living as a well-integrated citizen among the Dutch for many years now, but he remembers wth a touch of nostalgia the way Christmas was celebrated in his native village in Tur Abdin.
Each year on the fifteenth of December a ten days’ period of fasting started in the village. In the daytime the villagers of Arbo were allowed to eat, the only rule was that they had to abstain from consuming meat and animal fat. It was also the time to make preparations for the great religious feast. The male inhabitants slaughtered goats and sheep and the women were busy in the kitchen, making cookies and other sweets. The Christians of Arbo were poor people and there were no shops in the village. Only once a year, at Christmas time, the villagers could afford buying new clothes and even then many of them had to make their own clothes so that they could wear something decent for the feast.
In those distant days Isa was still a child. He remembers that the young children of Arbo couldn’t sleep when Christmas night had come. The tension and the general enthusiasm that was sensible in every corner of the village, kept them awake. On Christmas Day the whole community, old people and young ones alike, went to the village church. Christmas service started very early, around five o’clock in the morning. During that service a fire was lit in the church. The reason for this was that such a fire would prevent the child Jesus from getting cold. According to Isa this ancient tradition still survives in the Syrian-Orthodox Church in the European diaspora. 

That special feeling

Ruins of the old houses in Arbo - Tur Abdin SE Turkey 2009

After Christmas service the villagers of Arbo wished each other a Merry Christmas. There was a constant coming and going in all the houses of the village, everybody paid a visit to everyone else. Especially for the children it was a happy day. They went from house to house and everywhere they were given sweets and walnuts and even occasionally some coins. When Isa thinks back to the Christmas times of his childhood, he senses again the warm feeling of solidarity that reigned in the whole village. It is precisely that special feeling that is missing when he compares Christmas in Arbo to the feast in Holland and in Europe. Isa: ‘What strikes me most is that Christmas in Europe has turned into an economic event. Commercial exploitation rules. Shopkeepers start with Christmas decoration from the first days of December or even earlier, in every display window you see Christmas trees and Christmas lights, but I am sure that most shoppers and passers-by don’t even know what Christmas is all about. In Arbo the village priest gathered the children weeks before the great feast and told them the true story of the Christmas miracle – the birth of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the divine light that will bring peace on earth.’
Like so many others of  his Aramaic speaking Christian community Isa Sumer has left his homeland in Turkey. They had good reasons to do so – escaping from poverty and islamic domination and looking for a safer existence in Europe among so-called fellow Christians. They also had to pay the price for their giant leap into the unknown. Even for them a White Christmas is still possible, but it will most probably be a White Christmas with artificial snow. 

Translated from the Dutch original written by Isa Sumer