On Jan. 1, expats in Fethiye jump into the New Year with “The Big Splash,” aka the “New Years Day Fancy Dress Dip.” This year it was launched as the New Year’s Day Splash and dozens of members from the local expat community in Çalış and beyond dressed up in costumes to take a dip in the sea to garner support on behalf of the children’s charities they support. You will find that the 3Cs are one of the most active expat charities in Turkey and host regular charity boot sales, holiday markets and extravagant “Soul Train” gala events.
If you are single and looking to mingle, Yabangee, a website and events organizing community catering to foreigners in Istanbul, also regularly hosts holiday and theme parties such as their traditional “Anti-Valentine’s Day” events. If you are betrothed and looking for a romantic spot to dine, Le Cuistot Bistro in Beyoglu’s Asmalı Mescit serves divine international fare prepared by owner-chef and Belgian expat Carlos Le Cuistot. Widely popular among the expat community, there are also regular live music performances by Cuban, jazz and swing musicians such as the expat-heavy Uninvited Jazz Band.
Fast becoming the premier festival of its kind, the Turkish Highline Carnival (THC), takes place in Geyikbayırı, Antalya at the end of February. This weeklong festival, which has been taking place for the past decade, was started by an expat. Held in Turkey’s top rock climbing destination, with laid-back camping grounds geared to traveling climbers, this carnival is just as exciting for spectators as it is for those participating. The expert highliners that dress up in costumes and traverse along tightropes tied between mountains hundreds of meters up in the sky.
March is the start of Turkey’s harvest festival season and some are so popular and filled with activities that it may be well worth planning a trip to these out-of-town destinations. The Bodrum Bitter Herb Festival (Bodrum Acı Ot Festivalı) takes place in mid-March in Bodrum’s Ortakent neighborhood over two days, with live music, stands selling local products and gifts and offering samplings of dishes centered on the Aegean’s famous wild greens. Also well worth visiting is Urla, a town just outside of Izmir, which also has a festival for wild greens in the latter half of March.
Every year, Irish musicians that live in Turkey now or once did, convene at the James Joyce Irish Pub in Beyoğlu for weeklong festivities to celebrate the Irish holiday of St. Patrick's Day (March 17), or in this case St. Patrick’s “Week.” This Irish pub has long been a popular venue among the expat community and in addition to having live music nearly every night of the week, it also hosts English-language quiz nights.
The two most popular harvest festivals take place in April. They are the Alaçatı Herb Festival and the Urla Artichoke Festival and both are spectacular. They are multiple-day events with tasting and gift stands lining the streets. Stages are set up in town squares where cooking competitions, contests, seminars and concerts take place as well as side activities such as hiking and different field trips in the region. This is a great time to visit these two popular holiday destination towns in Izmir, but you must plan early to secure accommodation as literally hundreds of thousands have attended these festivals before.
The International Women of Istanbul (IWI) is an organization that has been around for well over 40 years. Their hundreds of members organize special interest activities and meetups as well as two blowout charity events open to all; their themed-costume Spring Ball in April and Holiday Bazaar in December.
Leading up to May, you can start to look out for announcements for the 3C’s Soul Train charity bash. A biannual (May and September) entertainment gala attended by around 1,000 people in Fethiye with live musical performances, disco music, an auction as well as a series of raffles.
Expats in Turkey take the summer off from organizing events as most are either hosting guests or vacationing themselves or are simply trying to contend with the heat. While holiday towns tend to shut down in winter, expats do the same in summer and most will agree with me that we prefer the off-season.
Things swing back in the fall and you can start looking at revivals of English-event series such as Toast Master’s, Spoken Word, Inter Nations events and English-language comedy nights.
While Turkey does not celebrate North America’s Thanksgiving, the Black Friday concept has made it across the globe, making for the third Friday in the month to be the best time to shop, especially online.
Throughout the month of December (and even as early as November), there will be multiple holiday markets held in Istanbul, Bodrum, Fethiye, Dalyan and Marmaris. The most regular annual Istanbul markets include the Francophone association Istanbul Accueil’s Noel Bazaar, the artisan collective Handmade Istanbul and the Bomonti Kermes, which goes to benefit the Fransız Fakirhanesi elderly home. Last but certainly not least is the IWI’s Winter Festival with dozens of stalls, caroling, raffles and of course, Santa.
In Bodrum, this year, holiday markets were held at Trafo, La Pasion, Pab Bodrum and Kefi Beach, while The Jukebox hosted an Annual Christmas Charity Extravaganza with a live band, Christmas carols, raffles and festive food and competitions.
On Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, expats and many locals from the little town of Dalyan, located in Muğla’s Ortaca, have a very special tradition in which they convene on Iztuzu Beach before noon and set up tables along the shore for friends and strangers to celebrate Christmas together with a potluck lunch.
On Christmas, mundane life continues in Turkey except for the historical churches in Istanbul holding special holiday mass throughout the holiday and hotels and some restaurants serving roast dinners or buffets in the evening.
Global wellness day takes place on the second Saturday of June in which different wellness practices are introduced in free demonstrations held all over the world. Started by Belgin Aksoy Berkin, a Turkish woman and visionary in the wellness and spa sector, this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the day’s founding, so expect a wide list of free demonstrations of a variety of different wellness practices, introduced at a daylong event at a special venue, such as last year’s full program, which took place at the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul’s Bomonti.
While this year Bodrum has amped things up with a two-week festival leading up to the new year, for expats every Boxing Day, which is Dec. 26, the Mayor of Bodrum hosts a special party attended by hundreds to celebrate the expat community.