Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus’ bones
“Christmas, with its spirit of giving, offers us all an opportunity to reflect on what we most deeply and sincerely believe in. I refer, of course, to money.”
So said the satirical song-writer Tom Lehrer, as a preface to his Christmas carol on how the feast is commonly celebrated nowadays. But I don’t think even Tom Lehrer could have imagined just how far the money-grubbing greed exhibited in the commercialisation of Christmas could go. I think this one takes the cake (hat-tip to Ad Orientem: Turkey hints at calling for repatriation of the relics of St. Nicholas). You can’t satirise and take the mickey by exaggeration any more, because no sooner do you do so than someone comes along whose behaviour in real life goes beyond the most exaggerated caricature you can think of.
A Turkish archaeologist has called on his government to demand that Italy return the bones of St Nicholas to their original resting place.
The 3rd Century saint – on whom Santa Claus was modelled – was buried in the modern-day town of Demre in Turkey.
But in the Middle Ages his bones were taken by Italian sailors and re-interred in the port of Bari.
The Turkish government said it was considering making a request to Rome for the return of the saint’s remains.
While Christmas is by and large not celebrated in Muslim Turkey, the Christmas figure of Santa Claus certainly is, in the Mediterranean town of his birth…
Even without the bones, the town of Demre has not been shy about cashing in on its most famous native son – today visitors to the Byzantine church there are greeted by a large, plastic Santa statue, complete with beard and red snow-suit.
‘These bones should be exposed here and not in a town of pirates’ in Bari, said Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, quoted in the newspaper Milliyet.
‘If we build a museum in this town (Demre), naturally the first thing we will ask for are the remains of Father Christmas’.
The minister gave no schedule for the museum construction, which would exhibit relics of ancient civilisations, but said that after a study by experts, Turkey would request that Italy return the remains of Saint Nicholas.
Someone should point out to the Minister that if the bones are returned, they should not be in a museum, but in a church where they can be venerated by the faithful. The Turkish government might not like that, howeever, because it would mean that the church should be rebuilt and a Christian community allowed to live and worship there. The bishop should not return unless his flock is also allowed to return. If it is not, it is cynical money-grubbing at its very worst, and an insult to Christians far worse than any Danish cartoons could have offered to Mohammed (pbuh) or any Swiss ban on the building of minarets.
So if the Turkish Minister of Culture doesn’t want to look like a cynical and greedy money-grubber, interested in nothing but tourist Euros, let him forget about his idea of a museum. Let him rather rebuild the church, and allow its congregation to worship there, so that they can welcome their bishop back home.