Santa Claus and His Life in Turkey : Six Facts You Never Knew

Every year around Christmas time, millions of parents across the world take part in the biggest deception concerning Santa Claus.  It starts in the early years of a child’s life when the parents promise an abundance of presents from Santa for good behavior.

They tell stories of the North Pole, the fat man who lives there and the elves who  make presents of all shapes and sizes. Some parents even take children to Lapland and the misguided infants spend the first years of their life believing in flying reindeer.

In the later years, parents mistakenly confess to their children that Santa Claus was not real and he is just a fun part of Christmas. The sad fact is Santa may not be alive and kicking but he was a real person.

He did also drop presents down chimneys and his biography actually starts in the country of Turkey, not the North Pole. I recently got chance to visit the town where his reputation was made but figured a bit of background history was needed to explain the story.

Bishop of Myra

Six Facts about Santa Claus and Turkey that You Never Knew

1 – Santa Claus was born in the town of Patara on the South West coast of Turkey between the years of 260 and 280AD.  Technically, the republic of Turkey was not formed until 1923 so if you want to split hairs, Patara at that time was under Lycian rule.

2 – The true name of Santa Claus was Nicholas and in adult life, he became the bishop of Myra which was a town further up the coast from Patara. It is now called Demre.

3 – When Nicholas’s parents died, they left him a lot of money and made him a wealthy man. He wanted to help people who were poor but he wanted to do it in secret so the agile bishop used to climb on the roofs of people’s houses and drop coins down the chimney. One day, a citizen caught him in the act and his good nature was revealed to the town.

4 – Upon his death, a memorial was erected in the town but it would be a number of years before he gained the holiest of titles and that was as Saint Nicholas. He also became the patron saint of sailors but more specifically of children as he was remembered for giving them nuts, fruit and sweets for good behavior. Bribery was alive and kicking even back then.

5 – December the 6th become associated with the feast of St Nicholas and in later years, a bishop declared December the 25th as the birth of Jesus. Over time, the two celebrations began to fuse together and that was the first connection between Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas and Christmas day traditions.

6 –In the late 1800’s drawings appeared of St Nicholas aka Santa Claus with a beard, pipe and a large belly. The  transformation of a humble saint called Nicholas to a fat, jolly man who feasts on mince pies and gets stuck in chimneys,  had began.  (God knows how the North pole, loyal elves and flying reindeer came about)

Santa Claus

Over the years, the true story of Santa Claus has become hidden in the shadows, known only by those who are religious or those who decide to trace back the history of St Nicholas or Christmas day traditions.

Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas AKA Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas Church in Demre

On my recent tour of the Lycian way in Turkey, I visited the church of St Nicholas where I got a wonderful insight into the humble beginnings of the man who would later be known as Santa Claus.

Main hall of the church of Saint Nicholas

Main hall of the church of Saint Nicholas

Located in the town of Demre (far away from the North pole!), the church is open every day and on the 6th of December, special celebrations are held for the day dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is also the church which holds his original sarcophagus although his bones were stolen in the 10thcentury by Italian sailors and they are now encrypted in a church on the south east coast of Italy.

Santa Claus Church

Hallway of the Church of Saint Nicholas

Special Notes: When you enter the church, it is wise to be respectful even if you are not religious as there are many queuing up to touch the sarcophagus of St Nicholas and also hold pray in the main hall

The Church of Saint Nicholas

Praying at the church of Saint Nicholas

Entrance fee :  10Turkish lira. (Around 6USD or 4uk pounds) How cool is that. Much cheaper than a visit to Lapland!

Saint Nicholas Church in Demre

Saint Nicholas Church in Demre

Request to all parents: Ok, I get it!  The commercialized story of Santa Claus, reindeer, elves and the North Pole is more convincing when trying to get naughty children to behave. However when they get older,instead of making a confession that you have been lying to them for the first years of their life, tell them about saint Nicholas, his origins and how his good deeds earned him, a place in the heart of children all across the world.

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas statue in Demre

Ok, time to fess up. Do you know this information already or it is news to you?

Contact me..


Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an Internet addict with a passion for history. Read my story here or leave a comment below to join the discussions.
Contact me..


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this! I live in Germany where we still celebrate St. Nikolaus on December 6th and in my childhood not Santa Claus but the Christkindl (Christ Child) brought my presents.
    Did you know that the red Santa dress we know today was orginally a Coca Cola invention?
    Yvonne wrote about..The Sky Above Me – The Best View Over Berlin

  2. says

    wow loved this post! I knew that Santa was based off of Saint Nicholas but aside from that didn’t know anything else about him. That’s a good point about telling kids that Santa was based off of a real person. I will have to remember that for when my kid(s) get older. :)

    • says

      Thanks Krissy, I think it is better to tell them about St Nicholas rather than saying that Santa did not exist. Kinda of a history lesson which can distract attention away from the commercialised aspect of Christmas
      Natalie wrote about..Photo – Isn’t Our Earth Amazing?

  3. says

    What I didn’t know was how busy the church gets! There wasn’t a sole in there when we went a few years back. Would be nice to tell kids about the real St. Nicholas once they know about the non-existence of the fat man in the red suit.Hope no kids read this.:)
    Turkey’s For Life wrote about..Turkish Beer: Efes Gusta Wheat Beer

    • Nat says

      There was about six coach loads there Julia. Could not move at one stage. I would prefer it to have been more quiet but we can not have everything our own way:)

  4. dave ayhan dunn says

    i knew he was from turkey but i thought he was from antalyia and didnt know he had been a bishop

    • Nat says

      Hi Dave, The towns that he was born in and also Demre (where he was bishop) belong to the Antalya region so maybe that is where the confusion comes in

    • says

      I think this story of his history is so much more interesting then the commercialised version Monica. However millions of children all over the world may not agree with me!

  5. says

    Great post! We did a similar one last year, but before researching it I honestly didn’t know a lot of truth about the REAL Santa Claus. Did you see the story recently in which they were about to go a 3D mapping of Nicholas’ face using measurements they’d taken when his burial place was refurbished back in the ’60s? IT’s pretty awesome. We’re very big on Santa in our family, so my daughter (who’s 10) knows all about the history now.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel wrote about..How I Fell In Love With Travel (aka That Time I Sang For Pope John Paul II In The Vatican)

  6. phil + Di marina gateway says

    fantastic read once again Natalie i did know some of that but not all of it

    makes me feel very differently about Christmas
    so thanks for that i will be thinking about you christmas day when were eating our lunch

  7. says

    I wrote a research project on Sinterklaas, the Dutch tradition that comes from the same storyline/history. That was 15 years ago, so my memory about the info on that is a bit rusty. Sinterklaas is celebrated in The Netherlands on December 5th, the costume of The Dutch Sinterklaas looks far more like a bisschop than the American Santa. And I agree with Yvonne, that Coca-Cola did a lot to giving its image here in the US through its advertising campaigns in the 1920s. The Dutch Sinterklaas his helpers, come from Wodan (Germanic) beliefs from around the year 400s, and I can see that the elves come from that same visualization. I don’t know if that’s true, but the Wodan helpers look a lot more like the elves, than the black helpers we have in the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition. These traditions have been taken from Europe to the US in the 1700s when many people migrated from Europe to the US.
    Marieke Hensel wrote about..5 Favorite Online Tools to Manage your Facebook Page

    • says

      Hi Marieke, thanks for adding the additional info especially the bit about the elves. I could not find any information on how they started to appear in the stories but yours make sense
      Natalie wrote about..A Guide to Tasty Turkish Street Food

  8. says

    Natalie, as usual a nicely written and informative article. Some of us who live close to Demre know the story, I update an article about St Nicholas every year. Glad to see others are aware of it also.

    I recently visited Myra / Andriake which is a must see for those who go to Demre and took a few photos which can be seen from the link to the Myra tour which I posted.

    For a humorous aside about the stolen bones of St Nicholas see what Dean Livesley, a kayak instructor from Kayaköy has to say in his article “Bag of Bones:”
    Hobbit wrote about..Demre, Turkey-Ancient Myra and Andriake Tour

    • says

      Hi Jeremy, Glad you will share the story with your kids. Too many people these days think Santa Claus was never true but his origins did start with Nicholas so i think we should keep his memory alive instead.
      Natalie wrote about..Adventure Rope Climbing In Kemer

    • says

      Glad you liked it Amanda. It was a pleasure to publish it as it is information not well known in the western world

  9. Eamonn Byrne says

    Great story Nat’s. I love your writing. x

  10. raky villaflores says

    This is superb Natalie.Thank you for sharing,

  11. Sophie says

    I actually knew! Also, the Dutch were big on St. Nicolas’ cult. Dutch immigrated in the US brought the cult with them. As for the reindeers, poems in the early 19th century mention flying reindeers.

  12. truth says

    you didnt mention anywhere in your article that Santa Claus was a greek orthodox cardinal and that turks didn t exist at that time in Anatolia. Bizzare how turkish people dont like the greeks but try to promote their country and make money from tourists misleading them about the origins of persons like santa claus or strabon by presenting known figures that were greek and lived in the then greek anatolia as turkish Of course I am sure you won t post my comment

    • Nat says

      Please refer to the article where I said

      “Technically, the republic of Turkey was not formed until 1923 so if you want to split hairs, Patara at that time was under Lycian rule.”

      I also mention that he was a bishop and at a later stage, a saint. At no point, have I said he was a Turk, imam or muslim.

      I also do publish comments but prefer it that if you take that tone, you read the article properly first. Also if you are that passionate about what you write, try using a real name and email address and then people won’t think you are a internet troll.

  13. Emre Erturk says

    This makes him extra special! Thank you for this amazing post and the information about the real life of Santa Claus.

  14. Bill says

    Its a urban myth that Coca Cola was responsible for the design of Santa Claus’s red suit ( though they certainly help popularise it ). Harper’s Weekly published Thomas Nast’s most famous image of Santa, complete with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe in 1881 decades before the Coca Cola advertisement and Coca Cola themselves admit the red suit was made popular by Thomas Nast and not them. Really enjoyed your article by the way.

    • Nat says

      Glad you enjoyed bill and thanks for reading

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge