CONTRIBUTED BY EMILY SMITH
Our first year in Turkey has flown by – we’ve packed more trips into this past year than I ever thought was possible (especially with two small kiddos). Even with all of our travels this past year, I will never ever forget our first official trip out of Adana.
We headed to Antalya for Thanksgiving last year, but we did not do the traditional trip to Antalya. We rented a car and headed about an hour south to a town called Demre or as it is also known, ancient Myra.
Did you know Santa Claus is from Turkey?
click photo for source
I grew up my entire life believing that Santa was from the Netherlands, or Finland, maybe even Poland… but Turkey? Gosh no! Turkey might be my last guess for the origins of Santa Claus.
I honestly did not believe my husband when he told me Santa was from Turkey. A quick search on Wikipedia and then visiting www.stnicholascenter.org proved my husband absolutely correct. Santa Claus – also known as St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra – was born in ancient Lycia around AD 270, which is in the present day area of Antalya. He became bishop of Myra in AD 300.
He is known for advocating for justice and helping the poor and the needy. Reading his history is fascinating. He lived a simple life, but did not shy away from doing what was right in protecting innocent people, and providing for the town of Myra during an intense famine. I am thankful that even in the craziness of Christmas and the Santa Claus that we know now, the roots of St. Nicholas come from a man who set a great example of caring for the poor and needy.
Upon our arrival to Demre, it seemed like we were in any other small Turkish village. There were brown signs that pointed the way to Noel Baba and so we followed them. We wound our way through the small streets in Demre, and finally found ourselves in a Santa City – shops after shops with little Santa figurines for sale – overpriced, but I bought them. I had to! I LOVE Christmas, and with the lack of Christmas decorations for sale in Turkey, this was my opportunity to stock up.
I honestly cannot thank my husband enough for his genius in bringing us to Demre. Having just moved to Turkey and being away from my family for the first Christmas overseas, it was amazing. The ancient church of Myra where St. Nicholas was bishop is available to visit for a small fee (I believe 7 or 8TL). The church is currently under restoration, but it is well worth the visit to see some really neat frescos and carvings. Just a small side note – you will find much of the signage in the city in English, Turkish and Russian. St. Nicholas is the most beloved saint in Russia, and many Russians make a pilgrimage to Demre.
We read in our guide book that there were some ancient ruins of the old city of Myra. It was not that hard to find the ruins even without coordinates, because there were actually really good brown signs leading the way there. The signs led us about a mile outside of town to some ancient ruins that really were amazing.
Thus far in my travels, the amphitheater at Myra is very well preserved considering time and natural disasters. The necropolis is directly behind the amphitheater and is impressive in its own right. We visited right before sunset, and the setting sun cast a gold-ish glow on the necropolis that almost made it sparkle. Even with my camera phone, I feel like it was impossible to take a bad photo. But I almost didn’t want to take photos – it was enough to stand there amazed.
GPS Coordinates for Myra: 36.2576088, 29.9826155
Approximate GPS Coordinates for the St Nicholas church: 36.246525, 29.983661