To get into the Christmas spirit, cue music – ♫ it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, there’s a big Christmas presence here this time of year. As of the 1st of December, Christmas decorations have slowly started to appear all over Istanbul.
At first I was surprised with the amount of stores I saw selling Christmas themed decorations and items like wrapping paper and ribbons. BUT, I was even more surprised the morning I saw Santa! The Kadıköy Belediyesi (Kadıköy Municipality) had decorated Bahariye Street, lining the street with Christmas lit statues of holiday icons like Santa,
a reindeer, a snowman, an ornament and a gingerbread man in a cup of hot chocolate. From storefronts to streets
and even trees, Christmas decorations can be seen throughout the city.
Do they celebrate Christmas there?
Turks don’t truly know when or what Christmas is, because they don’t celebrate it. Instead the month of December just leads up to the celebration of the New Year. Messaging throughout the city doesn’t mention Christmas, some talk about winter but mostly it’s about the New Year. For example on the Kadıköy Belediyesi decorations, the hashtag #YeniYıldaKadıköy translates to ‘Kadıköy in the New Year’. Stores signs mostly read Hoşgeldiniz 2016 (Welcome 2016) or Mutlu Yillar 2016 (Happy New Year 2016).
Iconic Christmas decorations like trees, lights, ribbons, garland and even Santa – to Turks represents the New Year (holiday). Here, a Christmas tree is called a New Year tree, Yılbaşı Ağacı. So mid-way through the month of December, Turks will decorate their homes with colorful blinking lights, wreaths and a
Christmas New Year tree. Some will even put presents under it too. (Once again to clarify, this time of year does not represent any religious symbolism, it’s more secular and Hallmark like – if anything.)
I did hear that some people will actually celebrate Christmas here, but will celebrate it on December 31st since everyone has off the following day. (Offices are closed on January 1 for New Years).
Did you know?
Here’s a fact that will blow your mind if you don’t already know, are you ready? Santa Claus is from Turkey.
Technically speaking, he was born in Myra an area (formerly part of Ancient Greece) now part of modern-day Turkey. Today, Myra is known as Demre, a city in the southern part of Turkey. Hence the origin and evolution of his name: Nicholas of Myra / Bishop of Myra > Saint Nicholas > Santa Claus.
In Turkish, Santa is Noel Baba, translating to Christmas Father.
❄ Happy Holidays! ❄