It's officially holiday season as the final month of the year has arrived and we all prepare to celebrate the entry into a new year. This may be even more important this year as we will undoubtedly be spending more time at home. So why not get into the holiday spirit by sprucing up your home as you prepare for the ultimate feast?
The Christmas tree, called "Noel ağacı" in Turkish but more widely known as "Yılbaşı ağacı," has always played a significant role in transforming a home into a winter wonderland. In Turkey, there are many people who put up trees, not for Christmas but to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Here is one big choice you have to make when it comes to having a Christmas tree and that is whether you are going to have an artificial tree or the more traditional living pine tree. There are multiple options for purchasing imitation pine trees ranging in size and color, such as whether you want a green or a white "snow-covered" tree. Websites such as partisepeti.com and çiçeksepeti.com have a large selection of imitation Christmas trees as do supermarkets and home materials stores such as Migros, Tekzen and Koçtaş, all of which have online shopping options.
As for real trees, they are admittedly more challenging to find and comparatively more expensive, let alone to have them delivered to your door. However, luckily Koçtaş, which does deliver, also has real Christmas trees. You can also order a freshly cut tree of varying sizes from the website yilbasiagacim.com, which will also be delivered to your door.
When it comes to decorating a Christmas tree, the options are endless. Basically, all large markets and home improvement shops in Turkey will have a wide variety of decorations ranging from Christmas ball ornaments to fairy lights. IKEA has the widest array of the traditional ball ornaments (also called bulbs or baubles) in every color you could ever want and also a variety that has been shaped into decorative wreaths. IKEA also has ropes of tinsel to wrap around the tree, a selection of stars to top it as well as artificial poinsettias, the iconic red-leaved plant of the holiday season. Tchibo is the place to check out for a wide variety of lighting options, including LED-light holiday door decorations of reindeer and Christmas trees. For all-around holiday-themed-home decor such as candles, figurines and trinkets, retail company Boyner is your best bet.
Interestingly enough, while holiday wreaths are hard to come by in Turkey, it turns out “Turkish wreaths” are actually well-known in Europe and abroad. For years now, local women in Burdur and Antalya have been hand-crafting holiday wreaths from cuttings of pines and berries they collect straight from the forest and dry out during autumn. Approximately 6 million holiday wreaths are exported to Europe and other countries from Turkey each year.
Prepping the actual meal
Once you have decorated your home, it is time to turn your focus to the holiday meal. For those who celebrate Christmas, a special dinner is held on Dec. 24 or on the actual day of the holiday, Dec. 25, which this year falls on a Friday. In light of the pandemic, unfortunately, there will be no parties or get-togethers for Christmas, and the same goes for New Year’s Eve, which falls on the same day the following week.
The Turks have a tradition of feasting on a traditional roasted turkey (or more often roast chicken) to ring in the New Year, and the meal can easily satisfy the criteria for a Christmas meal. As this year we won't be able to feast at lavish holiday buffet spreads, offered by hotels and regularly frequented by expats in Turkey, it is time to hunker down and figure out how to prepare a holiday spread at home.
Many of the major supermarkets have begun to stock whole turkeys available for preparation and will bring in more in the next fortnight. There are also a number of beloved winter vegetables that have become more readily available such as yams and sweet potatoes. Another option is to treat yourself to a specially prepared Christmas or New Year’s Eve dinner from some of Istanbul’s finest dining establishments.
Le Cuistot Studio located in Tarabya and owned by Belgian Chef Carlos Le Cuistot is one of the most popular restaurants for gourmet meals among the expat set. However, already serving delicious pastries and meals to go, Carlos has prepared a four-course feast for takeout or delivery. From a duck starter to a roasted turkey with lingonberry as the main course and a speculoos tiramisu for dessert, this would certainly be the most relaxed and reminiscent option. Le Cuistot-Studio will also have scrumptious Yule log Christmas cakes on offer for takeout.
A number of major hotels will also have roasted turkey meals to go, such as Mövenpick, Ramada, Doubletree and the Grand Hyatt to name just a few. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the Turkish preparation of turkey includes a stuffing of rice, spiced with pine nuts and currants. Other take-home options for deluxe dining on the night include meals prepared by Divan and a full spread by Havandan. Both are served with a variety of starters and meze, which are also a part of the popular spread held in Turkey on New Year’s Eve.
Let them eat cake!
While many expats will be celebrating Christmas on the same eve and day, most will not be eating the same Christmas cake. That is because throughout Europe and the Western world, there are distinct holiday cakes consumed by different countries. In Belgium, France and Switzerland, the Yule Log Cake aka Buche de Noel – a chocolate roulade cake that is rolled up and glazed with icing to resemble a log – is the go-to. In Italy, the Panettone Cake, which is a sweet bread with dried fruits, is symbiotic of Christmas and is available in Istanbul at Eataly. The Stollen, which is the German equivalent and is a sweet bread stuffed with dried fruits and sprinkled in powdered sugar, meanwhile, will be available at Divan Patisseries. For those from the U.K., finding the elicit Christmas Pudding in Turkey is near impossible if not homemade. Perhaps the process of preparing it a month early and dousing it in libations in order to achieve the perfect density and moisture does not make it the easiest sale.