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CHRISTMAS IN BODRUM TURKEY

Story and photos by

"I'll help you celebrate Christmas tomorrow," said Ali. The offer surprised us, because it came from the Muslim owner of a campground in Bodrum, an Aegean port town in southwest Turkey.

Fisherman in Bodrum harbor
Fisherman in Bodrum harbor
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Before we could respond, Ali invited Robin and Pat Elliott-Bateman, a British couple, travelling in a van, with their two children. Canadians, Tom and Betty Underwood, whose boat was docked in the marina, also happily accepted his invitation, as did an Australian couple, Harry and Judy Bahrend, and their son, Peter.

We were homesick honeymooners from Toronto. The Christmas spirit eluded us, possibly because of the balmy temperature, but more likely because we missed our families. A gathering with new friends was an enticing alternative to Christmas alone.

Potluck Christmas dinner

Eagerly, we divided up the potluck meal. Harry and Judy would bring drinks. Tom and Betty would make appetizers. Pat and Robin would provide vegetables and salad, and we would bring fruit and dessert. Ali and three friends would contribute barbecued lamb and rice pilaf. Everyone agreed to meet at the campground picnic area, at lunchtime, the following day.

Ali cooks lamb and rice pilaf.
Ali cooks lamb and rice pilaf.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

With arms full of treats and makeshift decorations, the guests arrived on schedule. So did Ali and his friends, with the lamb — on the hoof. Our jaws dropped even further, a minute later, when he drew a sword and slit the animal's throat. Blood pooled on the ground. Oblivious to our disbelieving stares, he quickly skinned the lamb and gave the woolly pelt to a friend, along with the fatty tail, to render into lard.

Roasted lamb on a spit

Afraid to offend our hosts, we said nothing. Ali and his friends eviscerated the carcass, tucked fresh herbs and garlic under its skin, smeared it with yogurt, and tied it to a long metal rod. They took turns, slowly rotating the lamb over hot coals, in a fire pit built earlier in the morning. Hunger replaced horror, as we realized dinner would take time to cook.

Turkish friend puts lamb on a spit for roasting.
Turkish friend puts lamb on a spit for roasting.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We occupied ourselves decorating the picnic tables with leafy branches of mandarin oranges from Ali's orchard. The children adorned a small evergreen with walnut shells, curly wood shavings and acorns, and then triumphantly crowned their creation with a starfish, found on the beach. As we set the tables, we taught our Turkish friends some Christmas songs.

Christmas carols and Turkish songs

A particularly rousing rendition of White Christmas attracted new campground guests from the United States and Germany. Ali warmly welcomed everyone. Ismet, an aged and weathered sea captain arrived, bearing a tray of fresh octopus (which tasted remarkably like lobster). A Turkish neighbour appeared with a saz (a long-necked lute with metal strings). Soon we were learning traditional Turkish songs.

International friends at Christmas lamb roast
International friends at Christmas lamb roast
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll


Rosemary-scented aroma of the roasted lamb heralded Ali and his friends as they presented the roast with a flourish. Our multinational group feasted heartily. Communication was no problem, even though the hosts spoke little English and the guests spoke even less Turkish. We sang. We danced. And we laughed. A lot. It was a Christmas we'll never forget.