The eve of the end of the calendar year and the start of a brand new one is undoubtedly celebrated across the world; however in Turkey it may hold a bit more significance than in others. As an expat or foreigner in Turkey at this time, there may be a number of traditions surrounding New Year's Eve in this country they are not yet familiar with. Thus, here are a number of tips to ring in the New Year right in Turkey.
In Turkey, the term "Noel" can sometime be misconstrued to mean New Year's Eve. All of the wonderful Noel markets, decorations and even Santa imagery are for the most part correlated to this end of the year festivity and not to what the western world relates to as Christmas. This can lead to confusion, because what can be referred to here as Noel also embodies the sentiments of spending time with family and feasting on a turkey dinner. Because, yes, just to add to the confusion, in Turkey, it has become popular to partake in a roast turkey feast, which is possible at many of the luxurious hotels housed in Istanbul and country-wide.
The New Year has also become a time of gift-giving to family members and close loved ones in Turkey, so you might want to be prepared and not caught off guard if you are handed a present. As for presents, there is a quirky tradition of wearing red undergarments on New Year's Eve as it is believed to bring luck. Thus, gifting red lingerie has become a custom and therefore don't be offended if you happen to receive this sort of intimate gift. A lesser-intimidating option for New Year's Eve gifts is to purchase a Milli Piyango lottery ticket. This is also a gift nearly every Turk gets for themselves, as every year a mega lottery drawing is held on New Year's Eve at 11:45 p.m. and broadcasted on the national channel TRT1. The grand jackpot is set at TL 70 million ($13.20 million) this year and tickets are sold in a number of price options, such as you can purchase "half" a ticket or even a "quarter" ticket as a gift.
If you will be celebrating at home then in Turkey one of the most popular ways to feast is to purchase a number of freshly prepared mezes by well-known charcuteries throughout town. An important tip, because you may be banking on that meze to either take as a gift or to present to your own guests, is that everyone else may be thinking the way you are. In other words, there can be long lines for meze purchases on the day of, so be prepared.
A street vendor sells ornaments for New Year's Eve in Istanbul.
Traffic in Istanbul, both pedestrian-wise and public transportation, can be extreme on New Year's Eve and thus it is well advised to plan your evening's route and embark on it well in advance. I have fallen prey to ringing in the New Year in a taxi on the Bosporus Bridge before, even though I had set out hours in advance. So, just make sure you allow ample time to get where you are going and try to steer clear of chaotic crowds.
And finally, an interesting custom to take note of on the night is to crush a pomegranate outside of the front door as it is believed to bring prosperity and luck in the year forthcoming.
What to do on the night of?
Throughout Turkey, blowout parties are held to celebrate New Year's Eve. Many of the most popular musicians perform in venues all over the country and lavish feasts are held in hotel ballrooms with a price tag to fit. Luckily, however there are a lot of options for a more low-key but just as entertaining night out in Istanbul. For example, Dorock XL Kadıköy will be hosting a Masquerade Party on the night. In Bomonti, Babylon will be counting down the New Year with "Oldies But Goldies" and The Populist will be serving a culinary feast coupled with DJs spinning rock and alternative pop and Nayah in Kadıköy will be ringing in the new year with reggae.
This year, Istanbul's expats are in luck as Yabangee, which is a volunteer-driven English-website and community, has ventured out to host their own New Year's Eve party to ring in 2019. Yabangee organizes a number of event series, such as trivia nights, seminars and music-themed parties for fellow foreigners to mingle in Istanbul. Their special New Year's event will be a twist on the "House Party" as it is taking place at a private multi-story residence in Sarıyer. There will be multiple DJs performing on different levels throughout the night, with the second floor devoted to hip-hop, R&B and Latin music and the top floor dedicated to electronic music. The address of the venue will be provided to those on the guest list, so if you want to take part you must sign up and follow the details on the Facebook event page for Yabangee's "New Year: House Party."
Boxing Day Trivia Night
For those who celebrate Christmas, Wednesday, Dec. 26 is "Boxing Day," a day devoted to visiting friends and family not seen on the actually holiday. In Istanbul, the James Joyce Irish Pub on Balo Sokak in Beyoğlu will be holding a "Boxing Day Trivia Night," which is held in English at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, making for a great opportunity to get together with friends or making new ones, while testing your knowledge and enjoying great food at this regular expat community hangout.