A Christmas in Istanbul …

Christmas in Istanbul – I always wondered what that must be like… And now I know!

As, for obvious reasons, Christmas is not a public holiday in Turkey. Life in the streets just goes on as usual. Some of the shops were sporting a little Christmas decoration (Father Christmas (in Turkish: Noel Baba) and/or a Christmas tree), but it is overall more festive in preparation for the celebration of the New Year. And it really makes one aware that Christmas is celebrated by the Christians only. There is a whole big world out there to which Christmas does not mean anything. (Quite a humbling experience.) Hence here is not much of the usual Western Christmas spirit in the streets going on, and the Disney/Coca-Cola version of a cold, snowy Christmas was gone out of the window this year anyway as we were enjoying lovely 20 degrees and sunshine in Istanbul. I suppose those temperatures are closer to what Bethlehem must have been like 2010 years ago when Jesus was born – not minus 20 and heavy snow fall …

Istiklal Caddesi on Christmas

Taksim Square in festive mood

The different Christian communities in Istanbul, though, were very much in Christmas spirit, and stepping into their churches (40 in Istanbul in total), one felt instantly transported to Western Europe. On 24th December, Christmas Eve, there was carol singing at 9pm, followed by a Christmas mass at the main Catholic church on Istiklal Caddesi, St. Anthony. The following day, Christmas Day, there were services scheduled in four different languages for the expats in Istanbul, who did not dare to face the travel chaos in Europe but rather stayed in the beloved city, and for the local Christians.

Aya Triada Greek Orthodox Church near Taksim Square

Christmas decoration at St. Anthony

read more about the Christian communities in Istanbul: http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=311&film_ID=10&slide_ID=25

However, there is still a tradition in some of the non-religious families to get together on the evening of 24th December for a dinner and exchange presents. Some have even adopted the Christmas tree for their homes.

In my case, the original plan was for friends from London to be over for Christmas. Arriving leisurely on 23rd and slowly getting into the Christmas mood and Istanbul swing on 24th. But it all came different from what was planned … The total travel chaos in London kept my friends where they were. Cancelled flights, hopeful attempts of rebooking, utterly crashed by an overbooked reality… So no Christmas for us together in Istanbul. Sadly!!! I celebrated en famille at a close Turkish friend’s home on Christmas Eve instead. We had duck, salmon and even presents under the Christmas tree. Lots of laughter and long conversations until 2 o’clock in the morning.

Christmas Day in Istanbul was just a very ordinary Saturday. The usual affair and a nice and quiet day for me. At night it began to rain and storm, so it was just nice to curl up at home and enjoy a movie. Boxing Day, I met up with a friend. We had dinner at Delicatessen in Nişantaşı (http://www.delicatessenistanbul.com/). Yes, we went posh!

read more on Christmas Eve in Istanbul: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=do-they-know-it8217s-christmas-2010-12-26

The other day I watched yet another very interesting new Turkish film called Teslimiyet or its English title “Other Angels”. The film is a rather brave Turkish production showing a story set in the milieu of the transgender community here in Istanbul. A rather moving love story that shows the harsh realities of being a transsexual in Turkey.

read the reviewhttp://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=a-candid-portrayal-of-transgender-community-2010-12-23

watch the trailerhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhTMz9V4I_A

A film like this is not a film appealing to a broad audience and one can therefore only watch it in a very selected number of cinemas in Istanbul – in two, to be precise. I discovered one of these two in a narrow and rather dodgy-looking side street off Istiklal and it was an extraordinary experience. The cinema is called Sinepop and must be dating back to the 1960s. The interior has definitely not changed since, apart from the seats in the main auditorium. There is even an elderly gentleman (there since the 60s???) who ushers one to one’s seat, and I observed later that people gave him some tip for doing it. It really feels like travelling in time. With eyes closed, it could be ‘Cinema Paradiso’ on a bad day. The quality of the film projection is rather poor that one would never think that the film shown is a film from 2010 but rather from 1965. The sound quality goes with the projection quality. At least it is consistent and provides the full time travelling experience. And something which was rather new to me is that half way through a film in Turkey is a 10 min interval. Rather like a proper theatre or concert. It was a full-blown experience – and all this for only TL1o (£4.50)!

And so it continues …

One Response to “A Christmas in Istanbul …”
  1. Fr Otto says:


    so good to see that Christmas was still nice for you – even without us. I want everyone responsible for the chaos in Heathrow to be sacked!

    We will be coming over soon, promised!


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