Don’t let tourist-related myths like Turkish Santa Claus, poinsettias, or even turkeys spoil your fun. Come learn how they relate to Turkey and why people might believe these urban legends to be true.
Turkish Santa Claus
Santa Claus is Turk. He was born in Turkey and is Turkish by descent.
The boy who famously became known as Saint Nicholas was born in the Greek seaport town of Patara to wealthy Christian parents. Shortly after his youthful return from a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, he went on to become the Bishop of Myra.
Saint Nicholas’ habit of secret gift-giving away his inherited wealth later became associated with the legend of Sinterklaas, who then became known as Santa Claus in the western world. The reference to Jolly Old Saint Nick (a short form of Nicholas) pays homage to the real-life Saint Nicholas of Myra.
The once named, ancient Greek city of Myra has fallen into many hands over the years, including those of the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, where it became known as the town of Kale.
The ruins of the St. Nicholas Church from the famed Bishop of Myra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Archaeological excavations that started in 1988 revealed the vibrant frescoes detailing the life and miracles of the saint, and a desecrated sarcophagus thought to be his original burial place.
When the idea for Santa Claus tourism took flight, Kale was renamed Demre and the church site was turned into a museum. The region is now very popular with over 500,000 tourists visiting every year to see where Old Saint Nick used to live.
On December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Nicholas many European Christians make the pilgrimage to Demre to visit the tomb of Saint Nicholas.
There is a lot of truth to this story other than the fact that Saint Nicholas of Myra was Greek, and not Turkish. Thanks to the conquering of southern lands in Ancient Greece, Myra eventually ended up as part of the Ottoman Empire. The city was also in Roman hands for a time, so technically Italy could claim the same since his bones were ferreted to Bari in the Apulia region.
Demre, however, is the 21st-century name of the city of Myra and it is now part of the Anatolia province of Turkey. It also where the remains of the Saint Nicholas Church can be found today, and that is an undisputed fact.
Poinsettias are native to Turkey and that’s why they’re called Ataturk Flowers and see all across Istanbul and throughout the country.
Poinsettias are originally native to Central America. The reason you see so many of them in Turkey is because they were the favorite flower of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the founder of Turkey), who cultivated their growth across the country.
Today, they are seem by locals as a symbol of Turkish patriotism and very prominently displayed on National Holidays in Turkey. The even called them the Ataturk Flower, which just goes to show how much they value their beloved first-president’s ideals.
While Turkey adopted the poinsettia as its national flower, it was never native to their land. It’s only because the flower was a personal favorite of their beloved first-president, who then promoted its cultivation that it now has earned a prominent place in Turkish culture.
Turkey birds are either native to Turkey or brought to Turkey from India and sold by vendors along the Silk Road.
Turkey birds are native to North America. The Republic of Turkey is actually quite new, after only being united via revolution and officially becoming a country in 1923. This was also long after festive turkey dinners became a holiday thing-to-do in 17th- century America.
When you consider the fact that North America wasn’t even discovered when the Silk Road was active (114 BCE – 1450s CE), the only thing turkeys have in common with Turkey, are the letters of the alphabet.
Below you find answer to our frequently asking questions regarding myths relation to stimulating tourism in Turkey.
Turkey Christmas Myths
No, Saint Nicholas, whom the legend of Sinterklaas was based on (also known as the myth of the Turkish Santa Claus of western world fame), was born in the Greek seaport town of Patara to wealthy Christian parents.
In his youth be started out as the Bishop of Myra whose habit of secretly gift-giving away his inherited wealth was well known in the region. The reference to Jolly Old Saint Nick (a short form of Nicholas) pays homage to the real-life Saint Nicholas of Myra.
The ancient Greek city of Myra passed through many ruling hands over the hands and is known today as Demre and found in the province of Antalya, Turkey. The ruins of the St. Nicholas Church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site now. This church turned museum receives over 500,000 visitors a year who want to glimpse Saint Nicholas’ tomb.
No, turkey birds are native to North America. Contrary to the urban legend, those gobble-gobblers of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner fame have no known association with Turkey. In fact, the Republic of Turkey only became a country in 1923 long after Thanksgiving turkey dinners became a thing in 17th-century America.
No, poinsettias are native to Central America. The reason you see so many of them in Turkey is because they are a symbol of Turkish patriotism.
The myth of Turkish poinsettias began because they are the favorite flower of the founding father of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who cultivated their growth across the country. Locals now commonly refer to them as the Ataturk flower (Ataturk cicegi).
The Aztecs, however, first called them cuetlaxochitl, meaning the flower that grows in residues or soil. In Mexico and Guatemala, they are known today as flor de Noche Buena, which translates as flowers of the holy night. They are also known in Central America as the Christmas Eve flower, which is in reference to the holy night being the one when Jesus was born.