When it comes to celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there are some Turkish customs that are better left behind.
The intoxication limit
We all know New Year’s Eve is one of those times we tend to throw caution to the wind. For most of us, a whole year of trying to drink in moderation culminates in a night of overconsumption. Still, there’s no point in taking things to the next level – you know, the one where you wake up hugging the toilet bowl or try to hitch a ride home in an elevator. After all, it’s nearly impossible to stick to your New Year’s resolutions when your head is pounding and your stomach’s churning on January 1. Make this year the one where you don’t chug down whatever alcoholic drink you can find. The key is to pace yourself so you don’t get to the point where you profess your unconditional love for everyone before blacking out.
There’s no rule that says you have to stick to classic drinks on New Year’s Eve. Opt for refreshing cocktails, or better yet, make your own cocktail if you happen to be celebrating at home. The internet is full of recipes that will satisfy even the most lightweight among us without going overboard.
The mystery of the turkey
“Since it’s the last day of the year, why don’t I eat to my heart’s content? After all, I’m starting a new diet tomorrow…” You more than likely won’t, but that’s not the point. The menu at most New Year’s Eve celebrations in Turkey will include a roasted turkey, assorted nuts, stuffing rice and an unlimited supply of tangerines. How roasted turkey, the centerpiece of the American Thanksgiving dinner, came to be the highlight of New Year’s Eve dinner parties in Turkey is a mystery to us all. Unless you really want to experience this tradition or you’ve simply got a hankering for turkey, it’s time to pardon the bird in favor of something new this year.
If you’re looking for an alternative New Year’s Eve menu, why not go the seafood route? Vogue’s New Year’s Eve dinner comes with lobster as a main course option (the meal costs 395 TL per person, call 0212 227 44 04 for reservations). You can also head over to Inari Sushi – Omakase in Kuruçeşme to get your fill of sushi while you enjoy a performance by DJ Serkan Eles.
The staying in vs. going out conundrum
We advise you to look deep into the eyes of the first person to ask you if you want to go out on New Year’s Eve and simply say, “Please, for the love of all that’s good, do shut up” – and if that person has ever attempted to go out in Istanbul on December 31, we guarantee he or she will understand. For every person who says, “Let’s just stay in this year,” it seems there’s another eager beaver who’s dying to be out on the town, so it’s no wonder that you find yourself undecided between the two options. On the one hand, there’s the very real chance that your gathering at home won’t go as fabulously as you planned, with people nodding off to sleep one by one as the night wears on. On the other, there’s the indisputable fact that you’ll be stuck in an excessively crowded restaurant with an overpriced prix fixe menu, trying to yell over the noise just to keep the conversation going with your mates. And if you can manage to survive without being groped, you’ll get to do the countdown in unison with thousands of people.
Let’s be honest: it doesn’t really matter all that much where you celebrate; what’s more important is the people you’re with. Still, if your heart’s really set on doing something special, you can always rent a house in Şile, Polonezköy or the Princes’ Islands. Not only will you get to be near Istanbul but far from the crowds (and your neighbors), but you’ll also greet the New Year with plenty of fresh air. How’s that for a new beginning?
The borrowed traditions
When it comes to New Year’s Eve, it would seem that all Turks have a master’s degree in appropriating Western traditions, be it decorating Christmas trees, hanging up mistletoes no one will kiss under, or buying red underwear specifically to be worn at midnight… There’s really no need to force yourself to participate in any of these borrowed traditions. Besides, you know deep down that the Santa Claus costume makes you look ridiculous, and that tree you spent hours decorating will just take up space in your living room until it gets on your last nerve come mid-February.
If you really can’t let go of tradition completely, why not try something new this year, like cleaning out your house à la the Japanese and the Irish? And if you really want to decorate a tree, it doesn’t have to be a Christmas tree: you can try out the Ottoman tradition of building a nahıl, an artificial tree embellished with flowers, ribbons, papers and animal figures.
The luck of the draw
1/107. Sadly, this is the chance of you winning the lottery on New Year’s Eve. To put it in perspective, it is statistically much more likely that you’ll die from getting slapped to death by monkeys than hitting the jackpot. “But someone wins every year,” we can hear some of you protesting. Well, there are also people dying from monkey-related causes each year, but we don’t see you getting all worked up about that. Disheartened by the realization that the jackpot is all but out of reach, most Turks reach for the tombala (a game of raffle resembling bingo) on New Year’s Eve. Easily one of the top five most boring games of all time, the tombala is another New Year’s Eve tradition – along with buying into the above-mentioned lottery craze – that simply has got to go.
Instead of opting for boring old tombala, you can try your hand at much more entertaining games… Whether you fuel your imagination with the card game Dixit, strategize your way to the top with the board game Catan or transport yourself to the Middle Ages with the board game Carcassonne, you’re guaranteed to have a lot more fun.
The screen addiction
There’s a whole genre of movies about New Year’s Eve, and then there are the Christmastime classics that Turks like to watch on December 31, some of the most notable ones being Home Alone, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life. Yet by now we’ve seen them all so many times that we could replay them in our minds simply by squinting at a TV screen. Another popular tradition is to watch the New Year’s Eve specials on every major network: you know, the ones where celebrities make believe midnight is only a few hours away when we know full well that the show was filmed days in advance... If you ask us, the best way of making sure you’re not wasting the night away is to not turn on your TV at all.
If your eyes are still searching for something to fixate on, may we suggest rewatching the New Year’s Eve-themed episodes of your favorite sitcoms? Some of the first to come to mind are Louie’s “New Year’s Eve,” Friends’ “The One with the Routine,” or South Park’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Jesus.”
What to knit?
The first things that come to mind are scarves, sweaters and the like, but the ladies at Arakne Knit Cafe in Üsküdar have more inventive suggestions: beverage coasters, crochet keychains, necklaces, headbands and coin purses are only a few of the countless things you can make with a little bit of time and skill... The truly ambitious can go all out making cozy blankets or inanimate pets for their animal-loving friends.
How much does it cost?
How much you spend will vary depending on the type of yarn you purchase, but for the suggestions listed above, you can choose pretty much any yarn priced 2.50 TL to 20 TL. The long-time knitters at Arakne recommend using a wool or wool blend yarn if you’re knitting something that’s meant to keep you warm, while it’s best to use cotton or linen yarn for items you don’t want to see pilling. No matter what project you’re working on, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to Kürkçü Han in Eminönü, where you’ll find a world of yarn.
If you’ve never knit before…
Once you decide what to knit, it’s time to purchase the yarns and knitting/crochet needles best suited to your project. Keep in mind that the needles come in different sizes, which you can match to the numbers found on most balls of yarn. It’s a good idea to check out the myriad videos online before you get started, but the knitting experts at Arakne recommend finding someone experienced to teach you in person. “After all, the magic of knitting is in doing it together,” they say.
A therapeutic experience
Hülya Candere says attending a workshop at Arakne was a very instructive experience, not only in terms of knitting but also in terms of learning how to be patient and concentrate on the task at hand. “Whenever I had a dropped knit stitch, I had to go back and fix it – it taught me the value of being persistent,” she says. Knitting has also been proven to help manage stress levels, so not only will you be creating a handmade gift for a dear friend, but you’ll also unwind in the process – what more could you ask for?
Get back to nature
Istanbul’s notorious traffic jams are all the more insufferable on New Year’s Eve, and the streets are more crowded than ever… But that doesn’t change the fact that you’d rather be out of the house on December 31. Our recommendation is to leave the city behind in favor of the ecotourism haven known as Narköy. Here you can greet 2017 overlooking a lush valley while you enjoy organic flavors and plenty of fresh air. Narköy’s special New Year’s Eve program kicks off on the morning of December 31, when you can start the day roasting chestnuts with your loved ones. At night, you’ll get to enjoy a live performance by Bülent Ay and his band. On the morning of January 1, you can sober up with a delicious breakfast spread featuring all-natural ingredients before going off on your rustic adventure, complete with a milking session and a two-hour guided tour of the forest. Accommodations cost 500 TL per person in a double room and 700 TL in a single.
narkoy.com. For reservations, call (0549) 529 54 49.
Entertain friends at home
If you’re planning on ringing in the New Year surrounded by friends and family in the comfort of your own home, one of the first items on you to-do list will be the dinner menu. Unless you’ve got all the time in the world (and which of us does?), it’s best to leave the job to a professional. We recommend choosing one of the New Year’s Eve menus offered by the online catering service Misafirliq. Overseen by Ceylan Kendir and Tuğçe Erkaya, the menu comes with pumpkin soup, arugula salad with pomegranates and mung beans, an oven-roasted turkey, stuffing rice with chestnuts and crispy pumpkin dessert. You can also opt to get lamb chops as your main course instead of the turkey. The menu costs 55 TL per person, with a minimum of eight people required, and you can place your order by December 29. If you’re not planning on hosting a proper dinner, you can also opt for the “İçki Saati” menu, which comes with chicken kokoreç and Mitite köfte and is priced at 30 TL per person. misafirliq.com
Party your hat off
Our favorite Bomonti venue, Babylon hosts one of its classic Oldies But Goldies parties where veteran DJs Mabbas and Murat Beşer promise to get you moving to the hit songs of our youth. If you want to dance till the break of dawn but aren’t really a fan of retro tunes, you can also head over to Cihangir, where Mini Müzikhol is hosting a New Year’s Eve party featuring MM Biraderler, aka DJs Doğukan İres, Seco, Cengo and Sinan.
For Oldies But Goldies details, see babylon.com.tr/
Mini Müzikhol, 23.00, 50 TL.
Enjoy a bit of nostalgia
At 10 Karakoy A Morgans Original, gypsy jazz band Flapper Swing takes you back to the 1920s and ’30s with an incredible repertoire of jazz and swing melodies. You can also enjoy a decadent dinner overseen by Chef İpek Mutlu, featuring signature dishes like roast beef with mustard sauce, fish patties wrapped in kadayıf (shredded wheat), and calamari with pesto sauce. This retro New Year’s Eve celebration costs 250 TL per person.
For reservations, call (0212) 703 33 33.
Groove to live music
Jazz aficionados who care more about listening to good music than getting hammered won’t want to miss the New Year’s Eve celebration at Nardis, where renowned jazz vocalist Şenay Lambaoğlu shares the stage with guitarist Önder Focan and drummer Olgun Açar. Concert tickets cost 80 TL, exclusive of dinner service. Doors open at 21.30, but since Nardis doesn’t accept reservations, we recommend getting there as early as you can.