Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Santa Claus

It's quite possible that I have no idea what is going on here:

Or it might be just what I think it is. A study by the Swedish consulting firm SWECO late last year determined that for Kris Kringle to maximize his gift-delivering to all the billions of young people across the world, he should be based in Kyrgyzstan.

The rest is at the BBC. What it boils down to is that the Kyrgyz government hosted a big celebration full of Santa Clauses and Ayaz Atas (Snow Father) and Ded Morozes (Grandfather Frost) and planned to name a mountain between the Osh and Naryn Oblasts as Santa's "new" home. RFE/RL also ran a big story about it.

While discussing the story with a friend in Kyrgyzstan, he lamented that this was just the sort of problem that the Central Asian Republics are trying to deal with: the question of identity in the wake of the collapse of the USSR. I suspect that the celebration and the naming of the mountain, just like the study that preceded them both, was slightly more benign than that, but the thought was now officially out. That friend and I, as well as two other people, are collaborating to research questions of identity just like this. We feel that it is important for some reason. Watch this space.

For me, though, the story illustrated an important point about religious identity, which just happens to be one of my research interests. In a nation whose population is probably 75% Muslim, this seems to be a cute little interfaith excursion. Of course, Kyrgyzstan is close to 20% Orthodox Christian, too, and even the Muslims there are mostly adherents of the Hanafi school, which distinguishes them from other, more strict denominations. Still, that Father Christmas can be revered in a Central Asian country is a good indicator that all hope is not lost, and that there are still options for getting along.

Or something slightly less sappy, but equally useful.