Following a series of protests against the celebration of the new year this week, a radical Islamist party staged a “street play” in the city of Bolu, featuring a repentant Santa Claus converting to Islam and reciting the Muslim profession of faith, or Shahada.
The Great Unity Party (BBP), a small nationalist Islamist political party, staged a sequel to its 2014 stage play in which Santa Claus was shamefully expelled from town by a man dressed as an Ottoman sultan. In this play, Santa Claus faced janissaries, or Ottoman soldiers, who took him to a Sharia judge. Santa was then forced to explain why he was drunkenly rampaging through the streets of Bolu handing out presents:
The judge asked Santa what he was doing, and learned he was celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ by wearing red and consuming alcohol. After Santa argued the public was also content, the judge symbolically asked two people from the public and learned that they indeed found the celebrations agreeable.
The members of the public were eventually chastised for their support and Santa lectured on the positive traits of Islam. After admitting that he had “heard that the Turks were barbaric,” Santa was told by the Sharia judge that “there is no room for barbarism” in Islam and agreed to recite the Shahada.
The performance did not reconcile the fact that the man on which Santa Claus is based, Saint Nicholas, was born in Turkey, with the claim that he had “heard” that Turkish people were barbaric. The actors also did not elucidate on why Santa Claus was inebriated while performing his end-of-year duties. While alcohol consumption is banned by Islam, it was not unheard of for Ottoman sultans to consume wine. One sultan, Selim II, developed such a reputation for drinking that he was nicknamed “Selim the Sot.” (He subsequently lost much of the Ottoman empire to Spain while distracted by attempted conquests of Cypriot wine country.)
While Santa Claus is globally considered a Christmas icon, he has become increasingly popular as a New Year’s Eve personality among secular Turks. It is not uncommon for moderate Muslims in Turkey to exchange gifts on New Year’s Eve, nor is Santa Claus uncommon as a New Year’s Eve decoration.
The fate of Baba Noel, or “Father Christmas,” as he is known in Turkey, in the 2014 version of this street performance was significantly less positive. Hurriyet notes that, in that year, the BBP performers had an unnamed Ottoman sultan expel Santa Claus from Turkey. “Citizens are celebrating because they’re entering a new year,” BBP Bolu Chair Mahmut Alan said. “We’re against the celebration of [new year]. We wanted to express this with a play.”
The play followed multiple days of protests from Muslims complaining that celebrating the new year on the Gregorian calendar is not Islamic. Using the Twitter hashtag “Muslims Do Not Celebrate Christmas,” Muslims protested that Christmas cultural symbols had no place in an Islamic country. They have met some resistance from secular Turks, however. In a column scathingly titled “Out of Pure Spite, I Will Celebrate New Year’s,” columnist Ahmet Hakan condemned the “ignorant” who do not “know the difference between ‘Christmas’ and ‘New Year’s Eve,'” suggesting they “sit down and think: Why isn’t everyone in the world imitating Muslim motifs but using Christian ones?”