Christmas is just around the corner, and you're thinking of holiday destinations as well as what you and your family can do to get into the Christmas spirit. Christmas tunes, decorating the tree, Christmas carols, Christmas movies… what else is there that really brings the meaning of Christmas home? Well Turkey's actually got more Christmas spirit than you realized! Not only was Santa Clause born in Turkey (The old Saint Nick), but some of the world's most impressive Christian sites are all located in Turkey! Check out 5 travel destinations to really bring Christmas home for you and your family.
Antalya - The Birthplace of Santa Clause
What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to visit ol' Saint Nick's church in Demre, Antalya?! Saint Nicholas was a jolly Bishop of the church in Demre (which still stands today). He was known for his giving nature, particularly to the children of the town. Saint Nick himself is buried still in the church, though much of the modern church is the result of a 19th century restoration. The church still features remarkable centuries-old frescoes on the walls and is on UNESCO's tentative list to become a World Heritage Site.
But Saint Nicholas wasn't actually born in Demre, that's just where he served as bishop. He was born in Patara, which features one of Turkey's largest ancient cities for you to explore. The fact that the weather is still warm right on the Mediterranean in Antalya is an added bonus for this fantastic Christmas destination! Imagine celebrating Christmas in the church of Saint Nicholas himself!
The underground cities of Cappadocia are simply unbelievable. Derinkuyu, the largest open city, is 11 levels deep, has 600 entrances and miles and miles of tunnels connecting it with the 40 other underground cities you'll find in Cappadocia. It is more than just a place to sleep at night, with ventilation shafts, stables, wells, water tanks, pits for cooking, communal rooms, bathrooms and tombs.
They were used by the early Christians to escape persecution at the hands of the Romans, and later from invading Arab civilizations. The stone in Cappadocia is relatively easy to carve, it's soft but hardens once it touches the air, making it ideal for exactly this form of settlement.
These caves represent some of the most incredible Christian dwellings anywhere in the world, so take refuge yourself this Christmas in one of the world's most incredible spots!
House of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus
Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most incredible ancient cities in the world. So what better way to spend Christmas than the spot where the Virgin Mary spent her final days, right in Ephesus? Her house is a pilgrimage site for Christians who pay their respects, and over Christmas in particular there are many who pay their respects. As with Antalya, the climate isn't too cool in the winter, and of course there's the Aegean Sea nearby in case you're after a nice Christmas holiday outside of the spiritual visit to the Virgin Mary's house.
Church of Saint Peter, Hatay
One of the oldest cave churches in the world is the Church of Saint Peter in Hatay. Some believe that this church was even mentioned in the Bible, (Acts 11:25-27), and may be the birthplace of the term “Christians.” So get to the real roots of Christmas in a place that forms the roots of Christianity itself!
Hagia Sophia, Orthodox Patriarchate and Cathedral, Hagia Eirene, Theotokos Pammakaristos Church, Chora Church, İstanbul
İstanbul is considered one of the holiest cities in the world, with major religious meaning for all three of the great monotheistic religions. Spending Christmas day (or eve!) at the Hagia Sophia is a truly wonderful experience, and the city's Christian population has its own traditions, with traditional Christmas foods and customs that they'll be more than happy to welcome you into!