How to Spend Christmas in Turkey
Anyone who is not familiar with the country might scoff at spending Christmas in Turkey. After all, as a Muslim destination, why would it even feature on the social calendar? However, as the country’s sizeable expat population continues to grow, more places host festive events to tap into this growing industry with much potential.
Now, we all want more than presents and snow, and can Turkey deliver this? Well, unless you head to a skiing region, snow will not be on the agenda, but expect a festive atmosphere and more. In many large shopping malls, huge trees take pride of place, and you will see the odd Santa Claus wandering down the street. These symbols are Turks celebrating the New Year but combine your celebrations and join them for a New Year party to kill two birds with one stone.
Why Spend Christmas in Turkey?
One big reason to come here for December 25th is to pay homage to a famous person i.e. Santa Claus. We are not talking about the commercial Santa who rides across the sky in a sleigh. We're talking about the original bona fide Santa Claus who was born in Turkey. Otherwise known as Saint Nicholas, he grew up in Patara in current day Mediterranean Turkey.
Becoming bishop of Myra in later years, it was during this time that he helped the needy and gave to the poor by dropping presents down people's chimney without them knowing. Word of his goodwill gestures and fame soon spread around the world, and such is his importance, his church in the same town hosts thousands of pilgrims every year.
Also, remember the roots of early Christianity lay in Turkey. Often seen in 4th and 5th-century cave churches of Goreme Open-air Museum in Cappadocia, the religion soon spread. Hence, the Seven Churches of Revelation, as mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament, are in the western Aegean region. So, spending Christmas here, is all about getting back to the roots of this festive occasion.
2 Good Reasons for a Turkish Christmas
One big complaint we often hear from European customers is commercialisation has overtaken the festive spirit. When you spend Christmas in Istanbul, Antalya or any western region, the commercial aspect is non-existent. All the shops still open to buy presents but you no longer have it shoved in your face 24/7.
These days, many people don’t bother with the church but if you do, suitable choices in many districts perform morning and evening services. One example is Saint Anthony of Padua Church on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul. Another is services in a small church in Altinkum, a famous British expat town. Just last week, they started their carol services to get ready for the festive spirit.
Ways to spend Christmas in Turkey
Any town that still opens for tourism, or with a sizeable expat community will have restaurants serving a traditional dinner. Lasting three courses, including Turkey, stuffing, pigs in a blanket, pudding and mince pies, after dinner entertainment focuses on music, games, karaoke and more.
This theme also features in large, all-inclusive hotels looking to capitalise on the event and fill up empty rooms in a time that is low season for them. Including room, drink, and food, some are exceptional value for money. Kitting out receptions and lobbies with décor, and providing no stop entertainment, you can also enjoy all the facilities without the queues. Think indoor heated swimming pools, spa treatments and equipped gym to work off those extra pounds from the festive day.
This theme has taken off in Antalya’s Lara Beach district, and every year, expats from many regions like Fethiye, Bodrum and Altinkum travel there. The bonus is as Turkey’s 2nd most popular holiday destination, attractions open all year round. If you want to get out to explore, most are also nearby. (Related reading: Winter activities in Antalya.)
Otherwise, the next best destination is Istanbul. As Turkey’s largest city with a sizeable expat community, local pubs, bars, restaurants, and hotels also take part in catering for Christmas holidaymakers. Just remember while Turks will help everyone celebrate Christmas in Turkey, this is a typical working day for them, so don’t expect festive spirits all round. However, book up for New Year, and the party size has just doubled because Turks see the New Year in with style.
Our Turkey Blog: To get to know more about this country, our blog is full of tips about the best destinations, popular tourist attractions, Turkish culture, traditions, and food. Including helpful advice for travellers and expats looking to live here, it is a complete country guide.