In 2010, a Turkish tourism company announced it would promote Turkey as the original home of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ birthplace in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya became a staple of Turkey’s tourism campaign.
If Santa Claus is the canary in the coal mine, then religious – and cultural tolerance – in Turkey may soon be a thing of the past. Süleyman Yeniçeri, a mufti in Turkey’s northwestern district of Keşan, has launched his own little jihad against ol’ Saint Nick:
“Santa Claus enters homes through chimneys and windows, but he would have entered homes through the door if he was a decent person. We enter homes through doors. The Quran tells us to enter homes through doors. Why would he enter through the chimney?”
Santa Claus is not alone on Yeniçeri’s hit list. If he had his way, New Year’s celebrations would also be a thing of the past:
“Celebrating an event that originated from Christianity means striving to become like them. Why would we ever want to live like them? Do they want to become like us… If one wants to have fun because others do, we need to look into the notion of entertainment. One becomes a sinner if entertainment involves drinking wine and alcohol.”
Now, I certainly don’t put Christmas decorations up at my house, but I have to admit I enjoy seeing them. I do recognize that most of the cartoon characters surrounding Christmas—be they Santa, Rudolph, or Frosty—don’t mean me any harm, nor do I believe that others expressing their religion is an attack on my own faith. Indeed, for 14 years I attended a Christian school, but found little hostility there to Jews, Muslims, or adherents of other religions.
It would be easy to dismiss Yeniçeri as a crackpot—every country certainly has its share—but it would be wrong to casually wave Yeniçeri off. After all, another prominent Turk once declared, “I am against the [Western] New Year’s celebrations.” That man, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is now prime minister.
Turkey is changing. The war against religious tolerance in Turkey today parallels that in Iran three decades ago and, when the attacks on Christian priests and synagogues are considered, has been only slightly less violent than what is now ongoing in Egypt. A Turkish model indeed.