Archives for category: Holidays

New Year 2013, Turkey

When I lived in Japan, come New Year, my Japanese friends would tell me that how you spend the first day of the new year is indicative of how you will spend the rest of the year. Turkish people, I learned, share the same belief. If you just spent your New Year’s day hungover and lying on the couch watching VH1 or a marathon of Hallmark movies, you probably want to reserve taking on this belief until next year ;). Somehow I adopted it and haven’t taken the time to undo it, so New Year’s day I like to do something fun and active with people I love. Last year, I went hiking in South Mountain Reservation with my Turkish friends Burçin and Hatice and Hatice’s family. It wasn’t lost on Hatice, her family, nor myself that we were together again this New Year’s day…In Turkey!
Beliefs are powerful!
So despite our late night revelries and 4am bedtime, this is what we did with the intention to carry it through the year:

  • Took a wooded walk (in a beautiful area called Sapanca)
  • Ate delicious, fresh food and drank tea and coffee
  • Spent time with people we love
  • Gave and received Reiki (we hosted a Reiki circle last night (January 1) for the local neighborhood women)

Turkey_NYsEve2013
Now, here are some things I learned about spending New Year’s Eve in Turkey:

  • Spend the evening with your family or friends
  • Give small gifts (books, CDs, clothes or cute accessories are typical)
  • Dine on roast turkey, pickled tomatoes and dolma‘s
  • Wear red knickers (that were given to you by someone else)
  • Carry a passport in your pocket (if you wish to travel in the new year)

Hatice’s mom (I love her!) blessed me with the gift of red knickers, but between all the dolma-eating, Rakı sipping and gift sharing, I didn’t get around to putting them on, so I tucked them in next to my passport and carried them with me in my little shoulder bag.

We greeted 12am coming up the escalators to Nişantaşı, a quarter of Istanbul famous for its shops and cafes. People kissed and shouted, “Happy New Year” in Turkish –I still haven’t learned it, sorry! We joined the throng and squeezed ourselves into the crowd following the music towards the heart of a street party (a DJ was playing music on an outdoor stage). A little while later, with some effort, we popped ourselves back out to walk along Abdi İpekçi Street, Turkey’s most expensive shopping street. We finished the night with Starbucks and the drive back to Izmit for our 4am bedtime.

Noted moment New Year’s Eve 2013?  Pre-dinner belly dancing lesson in the kitchen. Dear Belly Dancing, you are elusive, but I am determined to get you!
Once is enough moment New Year’s Eve 2013? Being sandwiched between revelers doing the fake-horseriding move to Gangnam Style. Why can’t I escape this song? Why?!
Noted moment New Year’s Day 2013?  The flock of starlings dancing in the sky.

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Turkey_Xmas

I didn’t expect to find Christmas trees and Santa Claus in Turkey.

Apparently, over 95% of Turkish people are Muslim, so even though I was visiting over Christmas I didn’t expect to find Christmas here. But reality never goes in the way you expect. I found it. While there are no nativity scenes, twinkling christmas trees decorate windows, snow flakes hang from rafters and red and white reindeer look over presents. Santa Claus also can be found standing at attention in doorways and dangling perilously from balconies.

Christmas in Turkey?

Not really. It turns out that Christmas Trees, carefully wrapped presents and Santa Claus are symbols of New Year. Christmas trees are called, “New Year trees” and the gifts it nurtures are called, “New Year presents.” The red suited Santa Claus is a symbol for St Nicholas, a celebrated gift-giving saint of children born in Demre, Turkey in 270. The word Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas and is a colloquialism for St Nicholas…

Turkey_Xmas2

So despite the Christmas-y decorations, Christmas is a total non-event in Turkey. Having been brought up under Christian tradition, Christmas has meaning for me. So I loved how my friends created a gathering Christmas eve at home by the fire to help me feel welcome and warm and to distract me from being away from my own family in Australia and my Boston Terrier Sophie in New Jersey. Musician friends played traditional Turkish music and old Turkish pop songs. The “band” featured a flute called a ney, a small drum called a goblet drum, a guitar player and the most mesmerizing singer. After trusting me too generously to play a rhythm with the pre-school-sized maraccas, I continued to prove my rhythmlessness with a belly dancing lesson I’d been asking for! We drank wine and Rakı and nibbled cheese, nuts, dates, fruit and cake.

Christmas day coincided with my friend’s son’s 14th birthday. His wish was to have Doner for dinner and to go bowling. So my 2012 Christmas Day night was spent in a Turkish arcade in Izmit bowling to Gangnam Style, and playing foosball.
Surreal but perfect.