I don’t imagine that Yashim, the Ottoman investigator, has a Christmas list.
His more devout Greek friends in Istanbul will fast through Advent: even George the greengrocer keeps a three day fast. Christmas is not a time of gifts for them – that belongs to the New Year, St Basil’s Day, when Christ was circumcised. Then a child – usually a boy – first foots his friends and relatives, bringing a ‘dog onion’ to each house. He goes away with a few coins.
Ambassador Palewski celebrates Christmas in his own way, naturally. On Christmas day he eats only what has been prepared the day before, and he lays an extra place on a white tablecloth in case someone turns up unexpectedly. That person is often Yashim. Under the tablecloth he puts straw. Otherwise, he watches the weather, according to the Polish tradition that the weather at Christmas foretells the pattern for the coming year. Once he invited Marta, his housekeeper, to pick a straw from under the tablecloth. A green straw for marriage, a yellow straw for spinsterhood, and a withered straw for more waiting; the short straw indicates an early grave. Inevitably the experiment led to misunderstanding, and tears.
Yashim visits the local orthodox church on Christmas Eve and lights a candle in memory of his Greek mother.
There’s a little more about her in An Evil Eye, which comes out this Summer.