Turkey’s population is made up mostly of Muslims so the country’s celebrations and gift giving customs are centered on Islam. The Turkish culture considers gift giving as a symbol of honor, love, and respect for each other, thus, presents are always exchanges on every important occasions in the country.
But did you know that Santa Claus was born in Turkey? Despite the fact that Turkey is an Islamic nation which does not believe in Christmas, it is where Saint Nicholas was born, lived, and died. Regardless of religious differences, people of Demre, the little town in Turkey where he came from, are proud of Saint Nicholas because of his good deeds, He gave gifts to poor children and that what makes him a really great guy for people all over the world.
Aside from being Santa Claus’ country of origin, Turkey is a country of generous people and this is observed best with their gift giving practices.
Turkish Gift Giving Etiquette
- Gifts should be immediately presented to the recipient upon entering the house.
- The recipient will open the gift in front of the giver, but during birthday parties, gifts are opened after the cake.
- For hostess’ gifts and there are other guests, the hostess will not open your gift in your presence to avoid embarrassing the other guests.
- When invited to a Turkish home, you are expected to bring small gifts for the children in the household. Gifts of toys and sweets are appreciated.
- There are no restrictions when it comes to gift wrapping. Any color is accepted as long as the gift is nicely wrapped with a thoughtful card enclosed.
- Turkey is a Muslim country so you should not give alcohol unless you are certain that the recipient drinks.
- If you are staying with a family, gifts of books or music from your own country can be good choices.
- Islam strictly forbids depictions of the human body so you should refrain from giving paintings or photographs that shows nudity especially that of a woman.
- Do not give overly personal or lavish gifts.
Business Gift Giving Standards in Turkey
- Gifts are not expected during the first meeting. It is important to establish a relationship first before giving or accepting gifts.
- Business gifts should be small and simple. Items representing your home country will be appropriate.
- Avoid giving over expensive gifts or this may be seen as a form of bribery.
- If you are given a gift and it was against your company’s policy, you can decline the gift, tactfully explaining that you do appreciate the gift but your company policy prohibits you from accepting it.
Turkish Gift Giving Occasions
- Hostess gifts – when someone enters a house, gifts are always immediately handed over to the hostess. Typical gifts include flowers ( roses and carnations are popular choices), pastries, especially Turkish Baklava, and glassware such as vases, and goblets.
- Zakat – it is imperative for the Muslims to give monetary gifts to charity. This is one of the five pillars of Islam.
- Birthday –birthdays are important in Turkey and should be remembered with a gift. The celebrant has a party and is given gifts. Gifts can be almost anything that match a person’s interest and are similar in nature to what you’d give someone in the US for their birthday.
- Christmas – because Turkey is a Muslim country, the majority of the population do not celebrate Christmas.
- Wedding – weddings are probably one of the biggest and most extravagant occasions in turkey. The bride and the groom are presented with gifts made of gold and gold coins are pinned on to the bride’s dress. There are three types of gold coins, small, medium, and big. The size of the coin will depend on how close you are to the couple. The closer your relationship, the bigger the coin should be.
- Baby – family is the most important thing in Turkish society so a newborn is an occasion to give a gift. Babies are welcomed with gifts of clothes and money.
- Military – men leaving to serve in the military are given parting gifts which is usually money.
- Eid – the Eid Al-Fitr and the Eid Al-Adha are the two most important Muslim holidays. People hold lavish feasts and families gather together for prayers and sumptuous dinners. Turkish families buy the best clothes for their children at this special religious event
- New Year – Turkey celebrates the New Year with festivities and lots of gift giving.
- Circumcision- circumcision is an important tradition in Islam and in Turkey, there is a huge feast and gifts waiting for the newly-circumcised boy.
- Return Gifts- this is always expected in Turkey particularly for weddings, newborn babies, and circumcision feasts. If someone gives a medium coin for someone’ wedding, the receiver must in turn give the same size for that person’s wedding. The same goes for other occasions. If a person gives a smaller, coin, the recipient will think that their relationship is not that strong like before.