Christian communities in former Soviet Union nations reap the benefits of still-secularized holiday, winning recognition and opportunities for the gospel.
Kris Kringle should be in Kyrgyzstan.
If he is efficient, that is. The Central Asian nation, according to a 2007 study by Swedish consultants, is the geographic center best situated for his annual toy delivery campaign.
Regional evangelicals welcome his advent.
With Kyrgyzstan’s snowfall and freezing temperatures from November to April, Old Saint Nick would feel right at home in the mountainous peaks that raise the country’s average elevation to 9,000 feet. But whatever the religion of his army of elves, Father Christmas would have to adjust to Islamic customs in the valleys below.
Quick to seize on the marketing opportunity, the 90 percent Muslim-majority nation declared 2008 as “The Year of Santa Claus.”
There was eventual pushback—though seemingly confused in terms of the calendar. Frustrated with the non-Islamic revelry, in 2012 the Kyrgyz Muslims’ Religious Administration (KMRA) issued a fatwa forbidding New Year’s celebrations.
Not Christmas. Not even Xmas. The birth of Jesus reamins an official holiday.
But it is observed on January 7, not December 25. Nearly half of the nation’s 7 percent Christian population is Russian Orthodox and follows the Eastern almanac. And since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, the government has honored its primary religious minority with few Muslim objections.
New Year’s Day celebrations on January 1, however, are a holdover from the Soviet era. The atheistic communists banned Christmas in 1917 but in 1935 reconstituted it as a secular holiday, celebrated one week earlier. No baby Jesus, but no Santa Claus either.
The Russians instead promoted a vague ethereal figure named Ded Moroz, which translates as “Grandfather Frost.” …