42. Today in 1920s Turkey: 29 December 1927 (Justice: A Gift for the New Year)

Cartoon by Ramiz (Gökçe), published in Akbaba, 29 December 1927, no. 527, page 1.

The Gift of the New Year
Father Christmas: Justice, my girl… Look, I’ve brought you to a very great and virtuous place… Dare not cause mischief, or run away to someone else… Alright, inhabit with joy, my child!…

Yeni Senenin Hediyesi
Noel Baba: Adalet, kızım… Bak, seni çok büyük, çok faziletli bir yere getirdim… Sakın yaramazlık edeyim, başkasına kaçayım deme… Haydi, güle güle otur, yavrum!…

The most striking and recognizable figure in the above cartoon is Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, featured happily delivering a gift, Justice, to Turkey. Rendered with the attributes of the famous character from Christian hagiography, Father Christmas is identifiable by his white beard, fur-trimmed hat and coat, jolly demeanor, and porter’s basket full of gifts — in this case a young woman. Even without reading the text, the belle is easily identified as a personification of Justice with the inclusion of a blindfold covering her eyes (signifying her objectivity) and a set of scales in her left hand. The snow-capped, iconic building at the feet of Saint Nicholas is the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara and the recipient of the coveted package.

A basic requirement for creating a sense of peace and order in complex societies, justice is a gift that the artist and many readers would find appealing. By pairing the elusive ideal of justice with a fantastical deliverer, Father Christmas, the cartoonist suggests that the notion of true justice is about as believable as the notion of an old man delivering innumerable gifts around the world in just one night. The touch-and-go, fickle nature of justice is underscored in Santa’s directions to Justice quoted in the accompanying text whereby he attempts to convince her to stay and not wander off; and to behave and not get into trouble.

It is not unlikely for the character of Santa to appear in cartoons and other forms of visual culture in Turkey to this day. Rather than a symbol of the Christian Christmas, in Turkey Father Christmas (Noel Baba) was adopted as a secular icon associated with the New Year as early as the 1920s. Other examples of cartoons that feature the familiar holiday figure can be found in posts #45 and #46. The New Year itself was often recognized and celebrated in this decade and other examples of such content can be found in posts #47 and #133.

Entire page, Akbaba, 29 December 1927, no. 527, page 1. Atatürk Library, Istanbul.

Originally published at https://steemit.com on December 30, 2018.



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Yasemin Gencer

Yasemin Gencer

I am an independent scholar of Islamic art and civilization specializing in the history of Ottoman and modern Turkish art and print culture.