Spending Christmas in Turkey, the birth place of Santa Claus

Did you know that Santa Claus was actually born in Patara, Turkey? You thought he's a native of the North Pole, did you?

St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, was born into a rich family in Parata. Both his parents died when he was at the young age and inherited their wealth. He later became a priest and rose to the rank of bishop in the nearby town of Derme in Antalya province where he had the reputation of sharing his wealth with the poor by dropping small bags of gold coins down the chimneys or putting them into the shoes of whoever left them out.

This is how the idea of Santa Claus dropping presents on chimneys and kids leaving stocking during Christmas eve became a tradition.

His remains used to be buried inside an 11th-century church in this town but were later stolen and taken to Basilica di San Nicola in Italy. The church was later converted to the Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi). In 2009, the Turkish Government demanded to have his remains returned to Derme, but the Italian government did not respond favorably.

Santa Claus is known in Turkey as Noel Baba or Father Christmas.

Turkey has a record of 99.8% Muslim population. However, being a secular country, there exist a minority of Jewish and Christians and the Catholic communities will do every effort and will not leave a stone unturned to make Christmas celebrations a memorable affair. Should you want to have a real feel of Christmas in Turkey, Istanbul is the way to go.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses

Several Catholic and Orthodox churches in Istanbul are holding masses on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve.

St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral, Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu District, Istanbul, Turkey - Christmas hymns starts at 8:00 PM on December 24, and Christmas Eve mass services start at 9:00 PM. On Christmas day, there are mass services at 10:00 AM (English), 11:30 AM (Polish and Italian), and at 6:00 PM (Turkish).

Church of St. Mary Draperis, Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, Turkey - Christmas hymns starts at 8:00 PM on December 24 followed by a mass services at 9:00 PM. On Christmas day, mass services at 9:00 AM (Italian) and 11:30 AM ( English and Turkish).

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Galata Kulesi Sokak, Beyoglu District, Istanbul, Turkey - Christmass mass is celebrated at 8:30 PM on December 24, and at 11:00 AM on December 25. Masses are in Italian, Turkish, English, and French.

St. Helena's Chapel, Mesrutiyet Caddesi, Beyoglu District, Istanbul, Turkey - Christmass mass (English) is celebrated with Christmas hymns at 11:00 AM on December 25.

St. George Fener Greek Patriarchate & Hagia Yorgi Church, Dr. Sadık Ahmet Caddesi, Fatih District, Istanbul, Turkey - Christmas mass celebrations happen from 8:00 AM to 12:00 NN on December 25.

Moving forward, here are the top attractions and tourist destinations you could visit should you decide to spend your Christmas in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, which the locals refer to as Aya Sofya, is one of the most important architectural wonders of Istanbul. It was originally commissioned as a Christian Cathedral by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the year 537. From 1054 to 1453, it served as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, except between 1204 to 1261 when it was used as a Roman Catholic Cathedral under the Latin Empire. When Mehmed the Conqueror defeated the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque. Finally, in 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, secularized and was converted Hagia Sophia into a museum.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), Istanbul

The ceilings of the Blue Mosque are so high that you get a sensation of falling when you look up. You either lay yourself down the floor to appreciate its magnificent entirety lest you strain your neck vertically tilting it 90-degree backward.

Sultan Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire, from whom the mosque was named after, commissioned architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha in the 17th century to build a monument that would rival the grandeur of the then millennium-old Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) and the result was what is more popularly known today as the Blue Mosque, the name being a reference to the blue Iznik tiles adorning its interior.

The mosque is still in service as of present but is also now open to the general public as a popular tourist attraction but the crowd is controlled so as to preserve its sacred atmosphere. Those who come for worship would be admitted through the main door while oglers have to enter by the south door.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Inside the iconic Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

Inside the iconic Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by @Pexels / Pixabay

Get ready to get lost (and your wallets emptied) in the labyrinthine streets and alleys of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. With its series of shops decorated with dazzling lights, the Grand Bazaar is, by default, a Christmas shopping destination.

It was first constructed after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century and still continue to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors daily and is now considered as one the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops.

Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

Hot air balloons over fairy chimneys and troglodyte village in Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloons hovering over the fairy chimneys of the troglodyte village in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by @ArifYasa / Pixabay

The hot air balloons are one of the main attractions in Cappadocia. Marvel at the snow-capped landscapes and the otherworldly fairy chimneys in while hovering on a hot air balloon.

Troglodyte Village, Cappadocia

Get your claustrophobic selves together and go eight levels deep underground to explore the Troglodyte villages in Cappadocia. It consists of a network of tunnels which were dug out of soft porous volcanic rock formations and was used to be a hideout among Christians running from persecution.

More fun facts about Turkey.

1. Noah's Ark was said to have landed in Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi) which is the highest peak in Turkey (5, 166 meters high) located in the east.

2. The Trojan War took place in Turkey and a wooden statue of a Trojan horse still sits in the city of Canakkale in the present.

3. Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is the only city in the whole world sitting on two continents. It is bordered by three different seas — the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

4. Istanbul had been the capital of three of the world’s great empires: the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, and the Ottoman empire.

5. Turkey, the fowl usually associated with North American Thanksgiving, had its name due to a little confusion. During the Ottoman Period, guinea fowl, which have some resemblance to the Thanksgiving bird, where being shipped to North America through the Ottoman Empire. Because for this manner of trade, the guinea fowls were being referred to as turkey-cocks or turkey-hens. When North America starts sending the Native American fowls back to Europe, they were mistakenly called turkeys. From then on up to the present, the popular Thanksgiving dinner bird bears the name turkey.


Noel Cabacungan was born and raised in the Philippines but is currently working in Saudi Arabia. He suspects the universe often conspires to put him in the unfriendliest of places and believes assimilation is the only way to survive. This belief made him capable of seeing the beauty beyond the most dreary locations. His favorite form of entertainment involves observing people do crazy things in the most mundane situations. Read more about his exploits on his blog, Ten Thousand Strangers, or follow his stormtrooper alter-ego on Instagram @troopertravelsph

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