Turkey does not officially celebrate Christmas but in Demre (Myra) «Noel Baba» is still embraced as a local hero.
The story begins in the 4th Century, when Demre was called Myra and the region Lycia,the home of Saint Nicholas of Myra. A substantial Christian community of Greeks lived in Demre (Myra) until the 1920s when they were forced to migrate to Greece. The abandoned Greek villages in the region are a striking reminder of this exodus. Abandoned Greek houses can still be seen at Demre and the regions of Kalkan, Kaş and Kaya which is a Greek ghost town. A population of Turkish farmers moved into the region when the Greek Christians migrated to Greece. The region is popular with tourists today particularly Christian pilgrims who visit the tomb of Saint Nicholas. Demre, named after the river Demre.Ancient ruins testify to the town's importance: a beautiful Roman amphitheatre and rock-cut tombs built into the mountain remain, the burial place of the wealthy residents. This town was the home of the man whose legend inspired Father Christmas. Even it's almost 6,000 km from the North Pole and there's not an elf in sight.
Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was a much-loved figure. Born to wealthy parents, he was known for his good deeds, immortalised in legends told for generations. In one, he is said to have visited a butcher who had murdered and pickled three boys to sell them as ham.
Nicholas miraculously brought them back to life. In another - the most famous - he heard of a poor merchant who could not afford a dowry for his daughters and feared they would be sold into slavery. Nicholas arrived at night, throwing purses of gold into the house. Told and retold, one version has the windows barred, forcing Nicholas to hurl the coins down the chimney, landing - yes, you guessed it - in the girl's stockings hung up to dry.
He was canonised soon after his death, and the St Nicholas Church now lies in the centre of Demre. Pilgrims come every year from across the world to venerate him during a packed December service.