Every year there are new comers to Ankara with the same questions we all had. How do we celebrate Christmas in Ankara?
Celebrating one of the biggest of the Christian holidays while living in a Muslim country doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think. The key is to lower expectations. Think about what is most important to you for the holiday, and focus on that. In this article, I will tell you how I plan to celebrate, and decorate. Perhaps you can find some helpful hints and expand from there. You can also read posts from prior years here: Where to “Buy” Christmas in Ankara, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Holidays Back Home. Don’t forget to check the comments in those posts for updates.
1. Plan ahead – and by that I mean, if you supposed to be at work on Christmas Day, tell your boss now that you will NOT be there. Make it clear. It is not a “maybe” situation. You are not going in. If you need me to call your boss for you, I will. I will even forge a doctor’s note for you.
2. My friend tells me a trip to Panora Mall will get you in the mood. It’s wall-to-wall Christmas decorations!
3. Bombard yourself with Christmas music. Technically, if you really wanted it to feel like back home (at least in the States), you should have started this before Halloween.
4. Watch your favorite TV shows and movies. If you don’t have a copy, ask a friend. There is a lot of great stuff available online too . . . like the Christmas episodes of all of your favorite series.
4. Get a tree, but don’t expect it to be as elaborate as you had back home. You can find artificial trees almost anywhere. If you want a really nice one, look at Tepe Home. But expect to pay hundred of lira for it. Bauhaus, Praktiker, and Koctas will all carry them too, because Turks use them to celebrate the New Year! You can also order them online from PartyDunyasi.com.
If you want a live tree, you have two options. One, get a potted tree. Visit a plant nursery. There are many around. I usually go to the nurseries in Ulus, at the foot of the castle (Kale). Remember, these have to be brought in slowly to adjust to the heat. They should not be placed by a heater. And they should go back outdoors in one week. Your kapici (building guy) may have a place for it to be planted.
Your second option, possibly, is a cut tree. I have never seen them, but I am told they sell them at Bilkent Center, probably at Praktiker, closer to Christmas. While a cut tree is always my first choice at home, please remember that there are no Christmas tree farms here. These trees are not being grown strictly for the purpose of cutting them for Christmas trees. It is not the most environmentally sound way of getting a tree. (Here is a blog post with the very same story I had read. President Teddy Roosevelt banned Christmas trees for environmental concerns. His kids had one brought into the White House and hid it. Roosevelt later changed his mind by beginning the traditions of Christmas Tree farms.)
4. Enjoy an evening or two of baking cookies. Start a cookie exchange with your friends. Put on your favorite Christmas tunes or a Christmas show or movie while baking. Cookie cutters are available at most small markets, definitely at Real, and at Party Dunyasi online. If you don’t see something you like, make your own. Just use a glass to cut a circle and decorate it as a Christmas ball. One year a friend bought adorable baskets and filled them with cookies as gifts for her friends.
5. Ornaments & Decorations – You are not going to find the best of everything. So just try to make it look festive in the best way you can. Do you have red ribbons that have “Turkiye” written across them, that you picked up at some event? Cut them into thinner ribbons and hang them from your light fixtures.
Check out TepeHome, Esse, and similar stores in the malls.
I did recently see simple red and gold Christmas ball in party stores in KucukEsat. I have a crazy cat, so I was finding it difficult to decorate. Then I came across super cheap and cheesy decorations at Japon Pazari. So I bought them and put them on a big green platter. If my cat attacks them. Fine. In the meantime it looks rather festive.
And if you are doing a tree, don’t forget to bring a few decorations back with you every time you visit your homeland. Don’t wait until Christmas. I brought some favorites with me last summer.
6. Wreaths – It’s hard to find a wreath. I have never found one that I could decorate myself. Those that I have found already done, are rather cheesy by my standards. But they are around. Check TepeHome. I recently made a very rustic wreath for Thanksgiving. I dried apples and oranges and glued them to a circle I cut from a cardboard box. I used hairspray to give it shine. For Christmas, I may change the bow to a red ribbon, or perhaps drape one of those gaudy gold chains from Japon Pazari, the ones with little Santas and trees and things.
7. Roasted Chestnuts & Hot Chocolate – Chestnuts aren’t so common a tradition anymore. But they are in every song and story. So why not give them a try? They are easy enough to do yourself, but they are selling them on all of the street corners of Kizilay already roasted as well. As for hot chocolate, it’s easy enough to find a recipe. But if you are out and about, start asking for Salep. It’s a wonderful wintery hot drink, topped with cinnamon! Salep can also be found at the markets, packages in a carton like milk.
8. If you have to celebrate Christmas on the weekend, then by all means Celebrate! But don’t forget that Christmas is on the 25th. (Yes, I know all about the history, etc. But now it is the 25th.) So at least take yourself out for a nice meal, light your tree, or watch a great movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
9. There have been lots of Christmas Bazaars this month. Unfortunately, I think most are over by now. Please let me know if you hear of one. As I believe I read, the TAA has one, but it doesn’t start until Christmas day. Kind of not the point, but useful for those celebrating Turkish New Years.
10. Don’t forget your friends! They are struggling through the holiday too! Invite them over. Go out for a drink or a dinner. Exchange little gifts. Watch a movie together. Or just get silly, go out to the middle of the street, and start caroling!!!
And last, but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to wish others a very