Easter without the bunny

Last week the man in charge of the dried fruit and nuts counter in Nevsehir's Begendik supermarket must have wondered what had hit him as a mini rush of local expats began craning their necks over his shoulder to see what was on the shelf behind him.

Why? Well, because one eagle-eyed female carpet dealer had spotted, tucked away there, a glass bowl full of miniature chocolate eggs wrapped in cheerfully colored silver paper. Perfect for customers visiting her shop over Easter, she reasoned.

Soon the word was out and others were rushing to snap up this rare treat. Later, I found another hotelier friend busily baking hot cross buns for her guests. So for the first time that I can remember, Goreme was exhibiting overt signs, in suitably highly calorific form, that it was Easter, the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

Not Christmas, aka Noel Bayrami, I hear bemused Turkish readers asking? Well, no, actually. It's just that Christmas holds the monopoly when it comes to celebratory trimmings. The trees. The baubles. The paperchains. Best of all, the carols with their rousing tunes that even the non-religious relish. What can Easter offer to compete with all this? Just chocolate eggs in a variety of sizes plus the Easter bunny, that was, in any case, a late intrusion into the story, at least as far as the British were concerned.

Coincidentally, this was also the first year in which someone asked me about church services in Cappadocia. Given that we have rock-cut churches on every street corner, not to mention a plethora of mainly crumbling 19th century models; it's perhaps strange that the answer had to be in the negative. There's rumored to be one rock-cut church in Avanos that holds the occasional service, but not so publicly that an outsider would know about it. Otherwise, Easter here is merely the starter signal for the tourism season. As for its religious significance, it might as well not exist.

Pondering this over the weekend, I concluded that it's not really all that surprising, given the sheer difficulty of explaining the Easter story. Recently an Istanbul friend did ask me to explain what it was all about. I did my best, really I did, but even I could hear that it hadn't come out quite right; not helped by the fact that I didn't know the Turkish word for resurrection (“dirilis,” I now learn, although “hayata donus” would probably have done just as well). It's so much easier to pontificate about Christmas oxen, asses, and mangers in stables, especially in Cappadocia, where such things were once the stuff of daily life.

Why, someone asked, aren't the many tourists from Christian countries clamoring to be able to attend an Easter service here? The answer to that is perhaps an interesting one. Quite simply, I suspect that people who choose to holiday in Turkey over Christmas and Easter are unlikely to be the most devout individuals. Indeed, I suspect that there may even be some who deliberately choose to spend Christmas in a Muslim country in the hope of avoiding all the hoopla that comes with it these days. The same may well be true of Easter although I doubt there were many party-poopers who weren't grateful to receive a mini chocolate egg or a home-baked hot cross bun anyway.