Friday, November 28, 2008

Is Santa Claus from Kyrgyzstan?

No, its not a premise for a Borat Christmas Special, but an idea that gained some validity after the BBC’s investigative reporters began interviewing some Kyrgyz citizens back in 2007. Santa Claus, but not as we know him?


By: Vanessa Uy


Back in December 22, 2007, the BBC ran a feature news story about how Santa Claus might be from Kyrgizstan(sometimes spelled as Khyrghizstan). The BBC investigative were following the trail of facts, hunches, and other “credible evidences” – like academic studies on old Khyrghiz folk tales – suggesting that Santa Claus – the man behind the generosity of gift-giving during Christmas – is from Kyrgyzstan. If the facts uncovered by their investigation really merits further study, then what’s the problem?

During the airing of that BBC investigative news feature story / news segment back in 2007, the whole Western World was still reeling from the “diplomatic embarrassment” created by the movie Borat – a “Gonzo Journalism” influenced film starring Sacha Baron Cohen which pokes fun at the country of Kazakhstan. The runaway success of Borat capitalized on the Western World’s – or the majority of her inhabitants’ – ignorance about former Soviet-block countries like Kazakhstan. Confusing Kyrgyzstan with Kazakhstan, the West probably viewed the idea that Santa Claus having Khyrgyz origins simply as an April Fool’s joke that came somewhat late – at Christmastime no less.

But that same BBC news feature did create a new cultural phenomenon in our local Sufi Muslim community. Since the concept of generosity is one of the ideals universally held in high esteem to the adherents of Abrahamic Theology, then an idea of a Kyrgyzstan-born Santa Claus is a good thing to them after all. Plus, given that our local Sufi community is probably the only one who appreciates the “artistically better” aspects of American Heavy Metal music, they probably assume that the idea of a Kyrgyz Santa Claus goes seamlessly with the Christmas Heavy Metal Band Trans-Siberian Express. Which is probably the only place where I live that the band has a very significant Southeast Asian fanbase. And besides, a Silk Road savvy Santa Claus really does explain away his somewhat over the top generosity when compared to the accepted generosity norms of Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

If the concept of a Kyrghyz Santa Claus ever becomes widely accepted all over the world, will this forever change the face of Christmas? Well, given that the Catholic Church is probably one of the staunchest critics against Santa Claus and his somewhat materialistic-leaning gift-giving role during the Christmas Season, this particular idea will probably be met with stiff ecclesiastical resistance. After being admonished first-hand by our local Catechism teacher for holding the view that Saint Nicholas is Santa Claus and knowing that those before me had met the same fate during the Reagan era / 1980’s, the Catholic Church will be one of Kyrgyz Santa’s staunchest critics.

21 comments:

Sherry Rashad said...

I've seen this particular BBC News feature last year supporting that there might be more to this about Santa Claus being from Kyrgyzstan / Khyrghyzstan than just a bad off season April Fool's joke - never mind a lousy premise for a Borat Christmas Special. Have you heard the Kyrgyz folktale titled Mother Wolf? Many schollars say that it is the origin of Tarsan and Jungle Book. Given that the Kyrgyz people are this generous, Santa Claus could be from Kyrgyzstan.
P.S. Trans-Siberia Orchestra is one of my fave bands.

Heidi Gail said...

The "Santa Claus is from Kyrgyzstan" story probably started a bit earlier than you noted. Back in December 5, 2007, when a mountain peak in Kyrgyzstan was named after Santa Claus after a company from Sweden suggested that Kyrgyzstan "might" be a more efficient location / starting place for Santa to deliver presents around the world. Might this be due to the fact that Santa Claus' costume and his sleigh wasn't equipped with a flotation device for a possible emergency landing at sea?
The virtue of generosity and hospitality in my opinion shouldn't not be only confined to a particular time of the year or to a particular ethnic and / or relogious group. Looks like Christmas is indeed getting more and more egalitarian as the years go by. From the Saint Nicholas of Myra, the legends of Findland and Germany, the unfortunate "commercialization" of American Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christmas, to the latest Kyrgyz origin of Santa Claus. it can be a good thing.

May Anne said...

Even though the Scandinavian origin of Santa Claus still has global dominance. A Kyrgyz Santa Claus has its own appeal.

Diogenes said...

I think this is kind of irreverent. What's next, Jesus is from outer space? Or John the Baptist as a marijuana-smoking Rastafarian?

Veronique said...

If Santa Claus is truly from Kyrgyzstan, does this make him a Sufi Muslim? Maybe I'll start playing my Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan CDs during the Yuletide Season.

Marie Lynne said...

Even though the Thomas Nast depiction of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant / Euro-Scandinavian Santa Claus still rules the world, I too agree that there is merit to the idea that Santa Claus is from Kyrgyzstan (on older encyclopedias Kyrgyzstan is spelled Khyrghyzstan). If it is ever proven that Santa is a practicing Sufi Muslim, then this would surely make Christmas the most egalitarian holiday season. In my place, I do often confuse my neighbors who either celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah / Chanukkah as celebrating Christmas.

Kirk said...

Having visited the Aga Khan Trust for Culture's website about their Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia. I think that there might be an overwhelming truth that there exist a Santa Claus-like person in Kyrgyzstan with similar generosity in spirit of our Anglo-Saxon Protestant / Scandinavian Santa of the Christian West. It is a recurring theme in Kyrgyz folk music like those sung by the Bardic Divas of Central Asia. Whether the Kyrgyz Santa is a practicing Sufi Mystic is anybody's guess - I think.

Maribelle said...

Even though Borat probably "ruined" the West's perception of Kazakhzstan, a Khyrghyz Santa Claus is quite refressing. Have any of you heard of Bardic Divas? it's about a compilation of folk music from Kyrgyzstan being pitched to me by my "world music pals". Some songs do sound "Christmasy" in a Central Asian sort of way. This is probably the inspiration of The Gathering's "How to Measure a Planet" album of 1998.

Lilith Fair said...

Probably the most radical revamp of the way the West celebrates Christmas since the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's dazzling lightshows on their Mahler / Wagner does Christmas metal. Just one question though: If Santa Claus is really from Kyrgyzstan, did Santa ever had tea with Ibn Battuta sometime in the past?

Nancy said...

The Central Asian region was praised by Ibn Battuta during his travels there, finding the inhabitants both hospitable and generous. Another proof supporting that Santa Claus might really be from Kyrgyzstan.

Ferdinand said...

Given that the man accomlishes his task year after year with not yet a hint of failure while doing it only on a single night in the entire year - December 24th - Santa Claus might well be in possession of a mystical Sufi knowledge now forgotten.
Respondents of this blog who support Santa claus being from Kyrgyzstan / Khyrghyzstan and also a pacticing Sufi Mystic with "magic" powers might not be far off the map. Based on Ibn Battutah's (Ibn Battuta) account on the generosity of Central Asian people, Santa Claus could really be a Sufi Mystic from Kyrgyzstan. I won't be a bit surprized that in the near future a scholarly research also proves that Santa Claus could have met with the Persian Sufi Mystic poet Maulana Jalaluddin / Jelaluddin Rumi.
Maybe Thomas Nast just "shoehorned" a Kyrgyz folktale about a generous sufi Mystic to fit into Anglo-Saxon Protestant norms that define Christmas during the 19th Century.

Vanessa said...

I say that given that an overwhelming majority of this blog's respondents seem to agree with my proposition - that's based on a still on-going research study - that Santa Claus is from Kyrgyzstan / Khyrghyzstan. Even though some of the respondents managed to present other facts supporting in favor of a Kyrgyz Santa that I myself was too lazy to research further.
I'll be delving deep into Ibn Battutah's (also spelled Ibn Battuta and Ibn Batouta) travels. Especially the Central Asian leg of his journey in order to find out if Ibn Battutah might had shared a cuppa with Santa Claus.
Pertaining to the Persian Sufi Mystic poet Maulana Jalaladdin Rumi's possible encounters with Santa Claus, the facts already at hand prove to be very intriguing to simply overlook. And given that the not-so-fabled mystical knowledge of Central Asian Sufi Mystics is very much largely unknown to us here in the Christian West, it might be very plausible that Santa Claus is a Sufi Mystic from Kyrgyzstan with magical powers who is also blessed with the virtue of generosity.
I too also wondered if Thomas Nast knew this knowledge about Santa when Nast "converted" Santa Claus into Anglo-Saxon Protestantism / Lutheran Protestantism without Santa Claus' consent.
P.S. Currently I've been listening to Bardic Divas and I do agree that The Gathering's 1998 album titled "How to Measure a Planet?" might be influenced by Central Asian Bardic Diva music like that of Kenjegul Kubatova.

Sherry Rashad said...

Before long, some "radical" scholar might be presenting proof that Ibn Battutah is Santa Claus or Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi is Santa Claus. Christmas is looking to become the most "egalitarian" Christian holiday. But the good news is all of this will help Kyrgyzstan develop their tourism industry.

Michelle said...

Even though the movie Borat made Kazakhstan and the surrounding countries a laughingstock to Western eyes, thus making the idea of a Kyrgyz-born Santa Claus a joke to a majority of those in the Christian West.
But if it will ever be proven that Ibn Battuta is Santa Claus, the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai could become Santa's firse ever embassy in the UAE.

Nadine said...

Even though we, the adherents of the Eastern Orthodox faith celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January or the first Saturday of January - whichever comes first.
This Santa-is-from-Kyrgyzstan might have it's merits, but do you also agree that Ibn Battuta and Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi inspired the Beatnik-era American poet Jack Kerouac?

Marie Carrie said...

2008 was officially declared as the Year of Santa Claus for Kyrgyzstan. Although Muslims around the world see the move as a mere tourist boosting ploy since majority of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan are Muslim. But given that they are Sufi Muslims, the implications that Santa Claus might be a Sufi Muslim Mystic should warrant further research.
P.S. I do agree that Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi and Ibn Battuta might had influenced American Beatnik poet Jack Kerouac to become a sort of "transcendental tourist" just like Ibn Battuta.

Gibson said...

Santa Claus from Kyrgyzstan? Very intriguing idea, though Christmas / Yuletide Season now probably extends to January 6 or 7 (Julian Calendar?) due to Eastern Orthodox celebration of Christmas.

Je M'Apelle Ja'Nelle said...

Maybe Thomas Nast's Santa Claus is largely influenced by that travelling gift-giver in search of enlightenment named Ibn Battuta. Given that recent research had shown that Santa Claus probably comes from Kyrgyzstan, is it possible that Santa Claus might be Muslim?

Golda said...

Santa Claus as a secret Muslim and from Kyrgyzstan? Maybe Santa could be like incumbent US President Barack Obama as a peace mediator between the Islamic World and the Christian West whose relations have been almost irreversibly ruined by former US President George "Dubya" Bush. And I think there might be a truth that Thomas Nast probably used Ibn Battuta as an inspiration for Santa Claus.

Sherry Rashad said...

Heads up guys, there is even a Klingon Santa Claus - believe it or not? The Klingon Santa was interviewed by Denise Crosby who used to play Lieutenant Natasha "Tashya" Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Christmas will now be more diverse now that the Klingons are involved.

Georgia Rain said...

I bet Fox News' Megyn Kelly is clueless about Santa Claus' Kyrgyzstan origins.