How To Celebrate Christmas In Istanbul

Christmas  | © Johnny Lai
Christmas | © Johnny Lai
Photo of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
19 November 2016

Christmas is not really a big deal in Turkey. Well, not as much as in the Western world anyway. However, it’s still very possible to have a lovely Christmas with services at Istanbul’s churches and a special feast at home with the best ingredients. We’ve put together a useful list for celebrating Christmas in Istanbul.

Church services in Istanbul

One of the city’s largest Roman Catholic churches, St. Antoine Church, is definitely one of the most beautiful places to celebrate Christmas. On December 24th, the service begins at 8PM with hymns followed by a celebration of Jesus’ birth at 9PM. The following day, additional services are held in four different languages: 10AM English; 10:30AM Polish; 11:30AM Italian; and 7PM Turkish. The other option is the Crimean Memorial Church, a lovely Anglican church hidden behind a veil of thick trees. One of the few Anglican churches in the city, Crimean holds a Christmas service on December 24th at 7:30PM and a Christmas Day service at the St. Helena’s chapel in the Pera neighborhood. Last but not least, orthodox Christmas services are held at the Church of St. George in Balat.

Church of St. George/Wikimedia Commons

Christmas food shopping

A juicy whole Turkey is a traditional essential on Christmas Eve, and it’s a good thing that Istanbul has lots of options in this regards. If you’d rather skip the very tedious preparation process, you can order a whole cooked turkey (filled with rice, pine nuts and currants) in advance from two of the city’s best modern tradesman restaurants: Hünkar and Hacı Abdullah. Another great place to order your cooked Turkey in advance is Delicatessen, which will prepare the bird in its most excellent form. If you’re not much of a turkey person, Delicatessen can also gladly prepare roasted lamb one day in advance for a more Turkish version of Christmas.

Turkey | © Andrea Goh/Flickr

With a largely Muslim population, pork is not as readily available as other meat varieties in Istanbul. You’ll definitely come across prosciutto or bacon at certain restaurants, but if you’re looking for someone who will provide you with several pork products for your Christmas dinner definitely drop by Istanbul’s only pork butcher, Lazari Kozmanoğlu. Open since 1977, this historic butcher – spread over three floors with its own cutting room – has everything from ribs to mortadella, bacon to sausages and all cut and prepared in-house. If you’re looking for something sweet after all those savory items, make sure to drop by Baylan bakery to pick up a Yule Log, AKA bûche de Noël, that delicious traditional Christmas cake made with chocolate filling and raspberry jam.

Bûche de Noël | © Caitlin Childs/Flickr

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