Celebrating New Year's in Turkey

Updated: Mar 28

Most of us are familiar with the appetizers and dips, buffets of finger foods, burgers and hot dogs, endless beer and cocktails, and other regional-type foods served in our homes and gathering places on New Year’s Day. We are also familiar with the sight of many of our family members on the floor, on couches and recliners, sleeping off the parties and celebrations from New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day these same family members, plus assorted friends, will be sleeping through the endless football games shown on TV, one after another! All the while periodically waking up enough to cry out, “Don’t turn that off. I’m watching the game!”

Along with its promise of a fresh start, New Year’s holds significance for many cultures, especially Turkish culture. There are a number of traditions and superstitions surrounding the start of a new year that are unique to Turkey.

It was not until 1926, when Turkey adopted the Gregorian calendar, that December 31 gained significance as being the last day of the year. In 1935, Parliament made January 1 “New Year’s Day”, an official holiday. So the popularity of celebrating New Year’s Eve on December 31 was born. Parallel to the commercialization of Christmas in the Western world, Turks and especially urbanites have embraced New Year's Eve as a holiday to decorate with trees and lights, exchange gifts, watch fireworks and celebrate in grandiose style.

In Turkey, New Year's Eve is celebrated more visually in big cities with street decorations similar to Christmas, Santa Claus imagery and trees adorned with fairy lights and gift exchanging among family and friends.

All over the country, the evening traditionally starts with a big family dinner. Serving a roasted turkey is becoming increasingly popular. The Turks have their own style of stuffing the bird with currants, pine nuts, and rice.

New Year’s in Turkey has a kind of Christmas feel to it, with Christmas type decorations on sale, Christmas Trees which are called Yeni Yıl Ağaç, (New Year’s Tree) and of course New Year’s would not be the same without some good Turkish New Year Traditions. Here are a few favorites:

  • When the clocks strike midnight, open your front door and sprinkle salt on the doorstep. This is said to bring peace and abundance to your home for the year ahead.

  • Running the tap at midnight and letting the water run is another tradition said to bring abundance to the home.

  • If you are hoping to bring more money and better finances into your life in the new year, then open a padlock at the strike of 12.

  • Going for a short walk is said to bring travel into your life.

Many Turks celebrate the New Year attending events and parties. Those that stay at home, play games and watch special New Year’s programming on TV. And, of course, it would not be a Turkish get together without an abundance of food and Turkish Tea. Many buy presents for friends and loved ones.

Celebrating New Year in Istanbul (Yılbaşı / Yeni Yıl) is a great idea. Turkey’s metropolitan area of Istanbul is bustling all year round, but definitely goes the extra mile to welcome the new year. Every venue wants to outdo the other to make the transition from old to new as unique and special as possible.

If you like crowds and want to gamble on fair weather, then maybe a street party is your cup of tea. The best way to experience this kind of New Year celebration is to have dinner in a restaurant in Nişantası or Kadıköy, and around 23:00 join the street party. From that point on, you will celebrate on the street with thousands of others and buy your drinks from the shops around.

In general, the largest well-known Istanbul hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs offer fixed price entertainment. Prices vary quite a lot depending on what is included in the New Year’s Eve package. Hotels and restaurants mostly have a dinner-party combination, where bars and clubs usually offer unlimited drinks. If live performances (of famous Turkish stars) are scheduled, then the prices rise even more.

The side streets of Taksim’s famous car-free street are packed with smaller bars and pubs. But be prepared to find Istiklal Caddesi even more crowded than it usually is. Ortaköy and Bebek have fewer bars to offer, but tend to be cozier and are certainly better located to see the fireworks.

At precisely midnight, the city will be illuminated by unofficial fireworks. If you can, try to celebrate New Year’s Eve at an establishment with a rooftop terrace or close to the Bosphorus shores. Some even play it safe, and make reservations for one of the many New Year Bosphorus Dinner Cruises.

Happy New Year – Mutlu Yıllar!

Fireworks from the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul

Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager, living in Centerville, Ohio with her husband, Jon. A mother of one daughter and grandmother of four beautiful children, she loves cooking for her family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all manner of food and cuisine. A dedicated colorist, she is also a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and loves to travel.

Copyright @ North America TEN and Mary Bloyd

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