anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, knows that i really, really love the holiday season! the sparkly lights, the food, the champagne, the gatherings… they all feed my soul in the most marvelous way; making me feel so alive, connected and so inspired by the inherent possibilities and excitement of the coming year.
celebrating christmas in istanbul is always a tiny bit strange (even after having lived here for twenty years!). the turks don’t generally celebrate christmas and there is much more excitement surrounding new year’s eve, which means that the real excitement doesn’t get going until after actual christmas has passed.
thanksgiving, being an american tradition, is, of course, not celebrated either so the act of getting into the holiday season really ends up being self-driven most years. normally we have the arrival of my family to look forward to and to get us cheery, but this year they are staying in the states so that teddy can celebrate his first christmas at home. thanks to face time we have gotten to watch him “decorate” the tree (i.e. pull off all the ornaments), pay his first visit to santa, go to the annual christmas light show at the asheville arboretum, and open his first gifts!!
for many years we took a family trip at christmas time. what started out as an effort to move away from spending money on unnecessary gifts quickly became a wonderful way to spend time together exploring new places and seeing the lights and beauty of european christmas celebrations, something which we had never experienced before. vienna and berlin, in particular were fantastic places to visit during the holidays. having the chance to have our christmas in two cities famous for their markets, traditional treats, and seasonal music was truly amazing; i am grateful we had the time to visit both before asya and alara entered high school. their high school schedules exams for the week just after the new year so travelling right before exams really doesn’t make sense, nor is it really fair to the girls, they really need to be home to study as much as possible during christmas week.
so, this year, with all these small adjustments to make, with no christmas trip to plan, and no specific family gathering to attend, we were left to our own devices when it came to christmas and thanksgiving!!! from the start, as soon as i knew my parents and sister wouldn’t be in istanbul, i decided that we might as well take advantage of the situation to plan a different type of celebration. my plan was that there would be significantly less entertaining- no big parties, in fact, quite possibly no parties at all (this didn’t go quite as expected :))! a big christmas was definitely also not going to happen (on this front i have to admit i was quite pleased with myself; alara tells me that she was so happy with her gifts because she only got things that she really wanted or that she would really use). and my own personal focus was going to be on experiencing new places or things and, if possible, exploring the city altogether as a family (on this front i was also rather successful and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves).
on the party front, i was not quite as successful, but i am happy to admit that for this i am glad. coming together with friends and family that we love is just such an integral aspect of the holiday season. although there have been days, and even weeks, where it felt as though things were just moving too fast, and the days were flying by, it was nice to know that on those evenings we would soon find ourselves sitting comfortably around a table sharing a meal and a bit of the holiday spirit with people we love.
and so, our holiday season celebrations started off on the right foot with a thanksgiving dinner party at home with close family friends… the next couple of weeks were just a whirlwind of entertaining and celebrating! we had a cocktail party at home for erim and ekin’s birthday; we were invited to a beautiful dinner at a new friend’s house; alegra and i attended a plethora of her friends’ kind of crazy, but always fun, birthday parties; we went to one friend’s now traditional fondue birthday celebration; erim and i attended a blowout of a 70th birthday party replete with live music and song and dance; a close girlfriend, with whom i have celebrated every christmas season for fifteen years, hosted yet another of her glamourous christmas bashes; erim and i travelled out of town for a weekend to celebrate one of his childhood friend’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary; and erim and i each had office parties to enjoy throughout the month! to say it was busy is a bit of an understatement; there were times when i honestly felt like we were running from one thing to the next!
without the stress of trip planning and overdone christmas shopping hanging over me i was able to be so much more present at and truly, deeply enjoy each of these events. rather than spending half of each evening making lists in my head while activity swirled around me, i was able to fully hear the music, taste the food, listen to friends while they spoke, and feel the energy surrounding me. it was a real gift and made the whole holiday season more magical than i ever could have anticipated. travelling out of town the weekend before christmas was the ultimate test in being present and enjoying the moment. but, since there is only so much letting go, i can actually manage i have to confess that i had finished all the wrapping, planning and list making i would need for christmas before we boarded our plane to bodrum.
christmas eve and christmas day were the perfect ending to a perfect month (there is still new year’s eve to celebrate, i know, but to be honest, once christmas is successfully behind me enjoying nye is always just an easy end to the season).
christmas eve we left the house early and went exploring in the beyoglu area of istanbul. it was perfect. the streets were crowded, there was a feeling of celebration in the air…we visited the st. anthony of padua church, which always has a large christmas mass and had a full manger, decorations, and a huge tree in its courtyard; we went to the soho house istanbul that was decorated to the nines and had christmas music playing for drinks; and then we ended up at our favorite pizza joint, miss pizza which, i was thrilled to see, was also fully decorated! on our way home asya convinced us to stop at this tiny bakery that only sells cheesecake and brownies- it was so cool! by 10pm santa’s cookies were by the fireplace, the christmas lights were lit, and we were all ready for bed! christmas day itself was just as lovely and each of us was ready to take our time relishing the giving and receiving that is so integral to the holiday. as the girls grow, i am so impressed with how they have managed to grasp the true concepts of sharing, compassion, and togetherness that for me, make the holiday season as special as it is.
as this special season draws to an end it is exiting to start looking forward to 2019. this year i have decided that rather than making a long list of new year’s goals i am going to take some sage advice and set just a few intentions, and work to carry them through the coming months. first, i hope to keep in mind this feeling of being present that i had throughout the holiday season and try to come back to it throughout the year. and second, i want to try to remember that so often the the unexpected turns out so much better than anticipated. finally, this upcoming year i am going to try to be open hearted; to let light in and to trust as i let my own light shine out, worrying less about the outcome and focusing more on the moment at hand. if this season of light has shown me nothing else, then it is that the more light we can let shine the better.