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Is Christmas celebrated in Turkey?

21st December 2015

Christmas is a unusual holiday. If you’re from the West in places like Europe or the United States then Christmas is likely something you take for granted. Every December (or even earlier) you’ll see the usual Christmas lights and decorations, shopping sales and mall Santa’s.

Christmas isn’t celebrated nationally in Turkey (although nothing is stopping you from celebrating it privately in your own home) however Turkey does have quite the interesting history in regards to Christmas. In some respects Turkey is the actually the birth place of Christmas, well of Santa Claus at least

Santa Claus was born in Turkey
Saint Nicholas (commonly known as Santa Claus or Father Christmas) was actually born around AD. 270 in the Turkish city of Patara. The story isn’t quite the same there’s no magical reindeers or a wondrous work shop in the North Pole, he was just a kind and generous man who helped those who were less fortunate.

Turkish people do however follow a similar practice to celebrating Christmas on New Year’s Eve, it’s tradition in Turkey that Noel Baba (the Turkish name of St Nicholas) would bring gifts to children on New Year's Eve. Turkish people follow this tradition by giving gifts on New Year’s Eve and even decorating their homes.

Saint Nicholas also has a church named after him that you can visit in the city of Demre, found in Antalya Province. The church is a beautiful example of ancient Byzantine architecture and is real sight to behold. The church is also the burial site of St Nicholas and an important site for Turkey’s Christian community and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

So why isn’t Christmas celebrated?
Being now considered a primarily Christian holiday it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Christmas isn’t really celebrated in Turkey. While Turkey is a secular country, it does have a strong Muslim community so Christmas isn’t seen as important to many people.

However that doesn’t mean Christmas is ignored, in certain areas you might see signs wishing people a merry Christmas or even the familiar Christmas trees and lights. On New Year Eve you may be see Christmas like decorations and lights adorning streets or people’s homes to celebrate the coming New Year. (This is more common in big cities like Istanbul)

So in a manner of speaking Turkey does have its very own little Christmas, it’s just held a few days later.

Written by David Varty - YellAli Content Team

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