What Christmas Traditions Are Practiced in Turkey?

Christmas traditions in Turkey include giving gifts, enjoying traditional food and attending celebrations. However, Christmas traditions in Turkey most commonly occur either on St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 or on the Great Day, Dec. 31. December 24 and 25 are not specially celebrated.

The tradition of exchanging gifts for Christmas occurs on St. Nicholas Day in Turkey and most other European countries. This day celebrates the life of St. Nicholas, the man who eventually became known as Santa Claus. In fact, St. Nicholas was born in the Turkish village of Patara. He spent his entire life giving to others.

Legend says that St. Nicholas gave three girls a sack of gold each, saving them from being sold into slavery. Tourists go to modern-day Patara, called Demre, during the Father Christmas Symposium, which falls on St. Nicholas Day. This festival features Activities for World Peace with Santa Claus and the Santa Claus Peace Award.

On Dec. 31, the Turkish celebrate the Great Day, a holiday that encompasses the gift giving of Christmas and the beginning of the new year. In large cities, people gather in the town squares where they dance and watch fireworks. Other people celebrate on rooftop gardens by feasting on chestnut-stuffed turkey. Children receive gifts and women receive lucky red underwear.