Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Central Asian Country Bans Santa

As many readers know, after seven years working in the home office of a U.S.-based mission organization, I took to the field. My goal was to experience what it would actually feel like to leave the Western life behind and take one's first steps in a new existence at the ends of the earth.

Of course from the perspective of Jesus' words in Acts 1:8 ("you will be my witnesses..."), my new home in Oregon is much more ends-of-the-earth than Muslim Central Asia could be. The town where I lived there is only about 2000 miles from Jerusalem (as the crow flies), while this one is about 7000. Culturally, too, a Central Asian person's mindset and way of life has more in common with a first century middle-easterner than you'd find in North America.

Yet the Soviet Russians left their mark. As these Christian-background atheists expanded their footprint in that region, they brought some aspects of European Christendom and introduced redesigned and secularized winter holidays to bring a little light into the darkness (without stirring up anyone's religious or ethnic sensibilities).

They popularized a character my friends called Kor Bobo, grandfather snow, the jolly man in in a fur-lined suit (sometimes red) who comes around each December. And Archa Bairam, the tree festival, where schools and communities gather pine branches and decorate them with tinsel and ornaments. The big holiday is Yangi Yil; people sing carols, make festive dishes, and exchange holiday greetings and presents in honor of the New Year.

Now the government of one country, Uzbekistan, is lashing out a bit against these too-Western traditions. See the article Uzbekistan Bans Santa to get the details.

St. Valentine's Day posed a similar threat -- it was an affront to national values. So like nationalists in India and some other Asian countries, Uzbekistan has tried to suppress it. They still allow International Women's Day, with its chocolates and flowers and a day off work. Perhaps that ought to be enough. The government encouraged local folks to replace Valentine's day with a celebration of the February birthday of local hero, ruthless Moghul warlord (and passable poet) Babur (1483-1530).

I'll leave you with a few lines of one of his early verses, recorded in his journal (aka "the Baburnama")

Other than my own soul I never found a faithful friend.
Other than my own heart I never found a confidant.

No, maybe Babur would not have been a fan of St. Valentine's Day.

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