Are you planning on going to visit Turkey during Christmas? I live in Türkiye, and even though my home is a Muslim country, did you know that it is the birthplace of Santa Claus? It is true, but we do not celebrate Christmas as Western cultures do.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any fun visiting Türkiye during this magical time; it is a popular destination at this great time of year.
Let me show you precisely what you can expect, such as the celebrations and traditions regarding the New Year we look forward to in Turkey. Which, in some ways, resemble traditional Christmas celebrations you might be used to.
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What To Expect During Christmas In Turkey
When visiting Turkey during the Christmas season, you should know that celebrations will be limited compared to most Western countries.
And since there isn’t a Christmas culture in Türkiye, there won’t be much enthusiasm or public interest. It’s also worth noting that gift-giving isn’t very common, although some families might exchange gifts on New Year’s Eve.
On New Year’s Eve, some restaurants, hotels, meyhanes, and bars host special events, providing an excellent opportunity for those seeking a fun time.
In most big cities, you can experience Christmas markets, where festive season dishes, Christmas-themed souvenirs, and local products are sold. If you plan to visit these markets, we recommend you wear thick clothes as the weather in Türkiye on Christmas day will be cold.
Do Turks Celebrate Christmas
Planning to visit Turkey at Christmas? You might ask: “Do they celebrate the Christmas holidays in Turkey?” Christmas in Türkiye is nothing like in Western countries due to the country’s demographics.
Since the country has a Muslim majority, Christmas traditions in Turkey are about celebrating the beginning of a new calendar year rather than commemorating the birth of Christ.
However, you should still expect some New Year festivals and events, similar to Christmas celebrations, during your stay. Most restaurants, stores, and malls have exceptional sales, and Christmas-themed ornaments are usually everywhere. Plus, some malls and organizations might even hold Christmas markets where locals sell an abundance of local products and souvenirs.
On the other hand, while such celebrations in Turkey are mostly related to the New Year, the Western Christmas culture has dramatically influenced customs and traditions in modern-day Turkey.
So, you can watch Christmas entertainment programs on Turkish TV, eat a plate of delicious Turkey (minus the cranberry sauce) at your Turkish friend’s place, and see a Christmas tree or two dotted around the streets of Turkey.
Santa Claus-themed statues, figurines, ornaments, and wares can be found all over the country.
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History Of Christmas In Türkiye
While Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in Turkey, most of its figures, even Santa Claus himself, come from Turkey. To understand the connection between Turkey and Christmas, we must travel back in time to the 4th century CE.
The modern-day depiction of Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, is based on a historical figure, Saint Nicholas. He was an early Christian bishop of Myra – a city in Antalya, Türkiye, where he was both born and was his place of death.
Although we have little information about his life, religious texts, and traditions introduce him as a generous gift-giver. One of the most famous legends about him tells us how Saint Nicholas rescued three girls from prostitution.
According to the story, the saint secretly dropped a sack full of gold coins for three nights so the father could pay their dowries. There are also other stories of him saving innocent people from execution, calming a storm, or chopping down a tree possessed by a demon.
While Saint Nicholas was venerated as a saint and associated with Christmas by the majority of the Christian world, he isn’t quite a popular figure in his birthplace, Türkiye. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t see him during your stay in Turkey at Christmas.
Do Turkish People Believe In Santa Claus
Another common question asked besides “Does Turkey celebrate Christmas?” is whether Turkish people believe in Santa Claus.
While the original Santa Claus was born within the borders of Turkey, it’s true that he doesn’t have a place in the country’s culture. Muslim Turks have inhabited Turkey, who don’t revere Santa Claus for nearly a millennium.
However, you can still see the influence of Santa in Turkish New Year customs. Instead of the Christmas decorations you’d usually expect, most shops and stores in Turkey start selling New Year-related ornaments and décor, which often depict Santa Claus.
It isn’t uncommon for the Muslim population, malls, and shops to erect statues and place figurines of Santa Claus around.
Also, some municipalities might organize New Year events where people dress up as Santa.
So, while Turks don’t believe in him, Santa Claus still has a prominent role in New Year celebrations.
How To Say Merry Christmas In Turkish
There are several ways to wish someone a happy Christmas time. The most common are:
- Mutlu Noeller! The direct translation of Merry Christmas Turkish people use is “Mutlu Noeller!” The expression literally means “Have a happy Christmas” and is mainly used in films or literary works. Nevertheless, Christian Turks also use the expression to wish each other a happy Christmas
- Yeni yılınız kutlu olsun! This is a more secular and popular way of saying “Merry Christmas” in Turkish. The expression, which means “Happy New Year,” is often used on New Year’s Eve to wish neighbors and relatives good luck
- Mutlu yıllar! This expression has two different meanings: “Happy New Year” and “Happy birthday.” While it’s not as popular as the previous phrase, most people will say “Mutlu yıllar!” in their text messages to emphasize their good wishes. You can even use both expressions together, like “Yeni yılınız kutlu olsun, mutlu yıllar!”
Christmas Traditions In Turkey
Since Christmas is neither a national nor a traditional holiday in Turkey, it’s hard to talk about genuine Christmas traditions. Nevertheless, there are various New Year-related customs, some of which resemble Western Christmas traditions.
Here are some of them:
- Homes and stores usually decorate their windows with Christmas ornaments
- Most people eat roast turkey on New Year’s Eve
- Neighbors and relatives often visit each other. It’s customary to serve your visitors baklava, Turkish delight, and chocolate
- Wearing red underwear is said to bring good luck in the coming year
- Local products and souvenirs are found at Christmas markets in Türkiye, usually in malls or public squares. These markets are generally called “Noel Pazarı” or “Yılbaşı Pazarı”
- When ten seconds are left to the new year, people start counting down out loud
Where To Find Christian Church Services In Turkey?
Most churches in Türkiye offer Christmas masses. Some of the churches you can visit in Istanbul for a Christmas service are:
- Church Of St. Anthony Of Padua – Catholic (They provide services in English)
- Crimean Church – The Church of England (They offer services in English)
- British Consulate Chapel of Saint Helena – The Church of England (They provide services in English)
- Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George – Orthodox
- German Protestant Church – German Lutheran
- Protestant Church of Beşiktaş – Protestant
Where To Spend The Christmas Season In Turkey
If you’re going on a Christmas vacation in Turkey, you should know where to spend this joyful time of the year. If you are in Turkey during the Christmas period, I recommend one of these as the best Turkish cities:
Shopping & Malls
- Vadistanbul Shopping Mall
- Centro Comercial Cevahir
- Akasya Mall
- Kanyon Shopping Mall
- Grand Bazaar
- Panoramic Restaurant
- Hamdi Restaurant – Pera
- Shangri La
- Swissotel The Bosphorus
- Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center
- Pierre Loti Café
- Gülhane Parkı
- Balat Parkı
- MaviBahçe AVM
- Hilltown AVM
- Forum Bornova
- İstinyePark İzmir
- Deniz Restaurant
- La Cigale Alsancak
- Buga Mavişehir
- Lidaki Balık Restaurant
- Şirince Artemis Restaurant
- St Nicholas Church & Museum
- Land of Legends
- TerraCity Mall
- Taşkapı Konyaaltı Meyhanesi
- Susesi Luxury Resort
- Asteria Kremlin Palace
- Selectum Luxury Resort
- Food In Box Antalya
So, leave behind your usual Christmas hype and traditional Christmas dinner, and instead swap it for the views of the Bosphorus strait, the ancient city of Ephesus, or even some strange stacked rock formations and enjoy the new year holidays in my country – Türkiye!