Xmas4Nativity in courtyard of St Anthony's Cathedral


You're coming to a Muslim country for Christmas so there won't be any sign of Christmas, right?

Well, actually wrong. You'll see the trappings of "Christmas" everywhere in Turkey these days, except that actually they turn out to be for celebrating New Year, the Turks having slowly taken on board almost all the traditions of the Western Christan except the religious ones and then timeshifted them to the New Year. 

So all those banners strung across the street complete with images of bells and tinsel? "Mutlu Yıllar" they proclaim. Happy New Year!

Xmas5Crimean Church at ChristmasOf course the hotels with a large tourist clientele such as the ones in İstanbul's Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu are also wise to the pulling power of Christmas which means that many of them will have true Christmas decorations up as well. Don't expect the staff to know the ins and outs of all the traditions though or to have much clue what is being celebrated. Most have only the haziest idea what Christmas is beyond the fact that Noel Baba (Father Christmas) dresses up in red and white and visits Westerners a full week before he does Turks.

Istanbul's Beyoğlu was in the 19th century a very Westernised part of town with many churches belonging to the different Christian communities. Most will offer some sort of religious service either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or both. The fascinating Crimean Memorial Church near Tünel, for example, will hold a servie at 10am on 25th December and there will be a Christmas Eve service with carols at the chapel attached to the British Consulate on 24 December. St Anthony's Cathedral on İstiklal Caddesi normally has services too. Xmas2İstiklal Caddesi "Christmas" tree

These days the many shopping malls in Turkey tend to go to town with "Christmas" decorations but if you want to buy decorations that will be cheaper than at home then you should head for the Tahtakale baazar area beside İstanbul's Spice Market where there will be whole streets of shops given over to decorations, giant inflatable Santas, wrapping paper etc at keen prices to attract the locals. There will be lots of artificial Christmas trees too - real firs are rare and expensive. 

As for Christmas lunches and dinners these are likely to be thinner on the ground - although most of the four and five-star hotels will dish up turkey with all the trimmings on New Year's Eve. 

To add to all the confusion Turkey turns out to have a real link to the Christmas story inasmuch as St Nicholas who is believed to have been the inspiration for the original Santa Claus was a bishop in Myra, a small coastal town near Kaş. The whole complicated story is told in Jeremy Seal's Santa: A Life.

Away from İstanbul you're only likely to find any awareness of real Christmas as opposed to the New Year in resorts such as Marmaris, Fethiye, Antalya and Alanya with large expat populations. Some of the hotels in these towns may even rise to a Christmas lunch or dinner.

Away from the coast the only other place you're likely to find much awareness of Christmas is Cappadocia where long years of experience with tourists and expats mean that turkey will be putting in an appearance on one or two Göreme restaurants on 25 December. Try the Seten Restaurant or Fatboys - you will almost certainly need to make a reservation. 

As for worries about having to endure a teetotal Christmas, fear not. In the places where Christmas or the New Year is celebrated you will have not trouble getting an alcoholic drink, albeit with a hefty price tag. 

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-334496-how-christmas-became-the-new-year-the-turkish-christmas-story.html

Xmas3Bursa's Zafer Plaza Shopping Mall celebrates New Year

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