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Christmas in Turkey

Cave fresco in Cappadocia of Christ.


During this time of the year I am reminded of my trip around the world in 2001 and in particular, my time in Cappadocia, Turkey. It is there that I discovered that a lot of the myth and history surrounding Christmas actually began in Turkey! While visiting the caves in Cappadocia I saw Christian relics and heard stories about the Greeks who hid in the caves to avoid persecution by the colonizing Turks. This is the genus of Christian stories about Santa Claus and Nicholas. Enjoy this article with lots of interesting information.

Happy Holidays to all!




Santa Claus Santa Claus - known as "Noel Baba" in Turkish which means Father Noel - lived in the fourth century A.D. in a place known as Patara on the southwestern coast of what was then the Byzantine Empire. His name was Nicholas and he was the son of a very rich family. When his parents passed away, Nicholas inherited a fortune. Later, he became the bishop of Myra, a town further up the coast from Patara, which is now called Demre. Being a generous and big-hearted man, Nicholas used to climb on the rooftops of people's houses and drop coins down their chimneys. When a citizen caught him in the act, his identity was revealed to the town and so the fairytale of the giving character Santa Claus began.

After Nicholas's death, a memorial was erected in the town and he was later canonized as a saint, which is why he is referred to as Saint Nicholas. Dec. 6 became associated with the feast of St. Nicholas and years later, a bishop declared Dec. 25 as Jesus's birthday. Over time, the two celebrations began to be fused together.

Beach on the coast of Patara, Turkey.

Patara, Turkey


Christmas Trees The pine tree, a symbol of Christmas, is believed to be an evergreen tree which symbolizes the immortality of Attis, according to ancient legend. As the story goes, Zeus fell in love with Cybele, the goddess of fertility, but could not be with her and left his seeds on a rock instead. The hermaphrodite Agditis was then born from those seeds, which legend indicates are symbolized by the almond tree from which the male organ of Agdities grew and the daughter of the Sangarius River (the modern-day Sakarya River) was impregnated by the fruits of this tree and gave birth to Attis. It is believed that he had such a beautiful body that Cybele and Agditis had fallen in love with him. Attis is believed to have killed himself by cutting off his penis under a pine tree and he lived as a pine tree after death, as Cybele begged Zeus not to destroy his beautiful body. According to the legend, Cybele priests castrated themselves during their rituals and experienced the loss of consciousness and pine log in Cybele temple. For this reason the temple was decorated with shining sex organs, symbolizing the castrated priests. Thus, the tradition of displaying tree ornaments during the Christmas season is believed to be adopted from Cybele priest rituals, as Dec. 2 also symbolizes the rebirth of Attis.

House of the Virgin Mary

The House of the Virgin Mary is located in the western district of Ephesus, ancient city near the province of İzmir, and welcomes huge crowds during the Christmas season each year. Even though it is often

mistaken as the Church of Mary, the House of the Virgin is a completely different religious destination, which is visited by thousands of Christian pilgrims each year. According to Christianity, the Apostle John brought Mary to this house in Ephesus after the Resurrection of Christ, and she continued her life there until her death. It is also believed that the house was built around the sixth or seventh century, although some experts say that it dates back to the first and fourth centuries. A German nun discovered the house in 1812. She awoke in a trance one night and described the exact House of the Virgin, even though she had never been there or traveled outside of her home. Differing from the House of Virgin Mary, the Church of Mary is also located in İzmir's Ephesus district and is highly significant for Christians. It is also known as the "Council Church," as it is believed that the Council of Ephesus gathered there.

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