Deck the mall with Santa’s helpers .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - With Christmas tunes a-blaring from the ice skating rink and the aroma of pine trees and cookies, two plastic Santas sing to no one in particular. Welcome to Christmas in a Turkish mall where shopping for kids is a festive, if slightly surreal, good time...

Christmas-like shopping and trimmings have been a part of Turkey’s urban landscape for the past three decades. Punctuating Istanbul today are new high-end malls signifying both the progress and the anomaly of excess in a city where most people seem to manage only with the help from friends and family.

Nonetheless this time of year most Turks, especially children, receive gifts on New Year’s Day. "When I was small, gift giving and Christmas decorations was new but caught on quickly," said Tulay Keskin, holding a few shopping bags of gifts last Saturday while watching her kids ice skate with their father in Kanyon, one of Turkey’s newest and sleekest malls. "It doesn’t matter if it’s commercialized or imported from abroad," she said. "A couple of generations have already made it a New Year’s custom." Her stash included the newest item on the market: The Atom Figure, a futuristic hero with a wheel between his legs, sold at Elit Toy Store in Kanyon for 250 YTL.

Located in Levent and open since 2006, the mall is known for offering specialized foreign brands previously not found in Turkey. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review bundled up a toddler and a teenager to put the hype to the test. For this gang of Americans under 35, seeking Christmas at the mall is tradition.

While foreigners and locals swoon over Kanyon’s feat of architecture, trendy upscale restaurants and luxury shopping, some come for the window shopping alone. Brits Justin and Anne Parker say even as teachers with steady salaries they can barely afford to live in Istanbul, much less frequent Kanyon. "But it’s a festive, beautiful place, so we’re here to look," Justin said, sipping a toffee latte. The kids’ section at Kanyon is on the bottom B-2 level, huddling in a curving passage. The convenience of this covered nook should not be understated, as it quickly becomes a shelter in any cold wind or rain in this outdoor mall. Filled with mostly high-end kids’ clothing, gear and toys, the shops are sandwiched between a candy kiosk that looks like a gingerbread house and a sparkling clean restroom with a large diaper changing area. Halleluiah.

Beware of maternity shop Mom-To-Be: The modern and flattering combinations are poised to grab wallets in a Conga line to the cash register. Across the way is the Mothercare, with its lineup of cotton baby clothing galore, top-selling Baby Bjorn baby carriers, strollers, bath gear, high chairs, car seats, beds and bedding, this is a place to get things done. The baby lounge one level up is great for nursing and restless toddlers (and their moms).

Let toys do the talking
In Elit Oyuncak toy store, salesman Tayfun Özdemir showed off some of the most popular toys this holiday. For toddlers and kids, the Lego-like Mega Blocks are consistently the biggest seller and the latest from Nintendo’s Wi universe. Remote control helicopters from 25-55 YTL. The store’s center aisle offers a reprieve of inexpensive classics including a wooden xylophone and the canister that moos like a cow.

Around the corner, Nataly’s rises like the Versace of mom and kid stores. Though some baby outfits cost more than a day at the spa, the walls of learning toys and soft leather slip-on shoes do inspire one to earn a better living.

Two excellent stores follow: Imaginarium and Nest by Mozaic offer the latest in out-of-the box equipment and playthings with kits from fun with cooking, nature discovery to beginner quilting, knitting and gardening. Nest is the only store in Turkey to sell the elegant and adjustable Svan wooden highchairs. The Keith Haring do-it-yourself art sets are cool but the rack of YTL 150-and-up pastel felt clothing for tots left us cursing the sweet French labels.

Upstairs across from the cinema is a restaurant that adores kids and even encourages them to write on the walls. Numnum offers down-home food and a take-home child's menu filled with coloring and games.

Italian Maria Angeli, an Istanbul resident and mother of a young daughter said coming to Kanyon had put them in the Christmas spirit. "With so much Noel everywhere, the skating and IMAX, it’s easy to feel the holiday here," she said, while sharing pasta with her daughter. "We want to return with her father on Christmas Day to see a movie," she said. "That’s what we do in Italy."