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Holy Days

 Untitled Document Festivals are a common occurence following all fasts and religious diets in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Though Catholic, Orthodox and Gregorian sects may celebrate the same holidays, these celebrations do not always occur on the same dates, owing to different ways of calculating the dates. Throughout Turkey, but particularly in İstanbul, which is home to people of many different religions, the religious beliefs of others are widely respected. Many people even participate in or celebrate the special holidays and feasts, New Year Eve, Christmas and the Jewish Pesah. Especially during the Bayrams or when a death occurs,neighbors visit each other and share the happiness and grief respectively, regardless of what religion they themselves may be.

Major Holy Days of Armenians

Gağant (New Year): The New Year celebrations are on December 31st. Armenians call New Year as Gağant, synonymous with a richly laden feast, and they bake “New Year Shortbread” and cook Aşure (a kind of pudding especially made by using several cereals and dried fruits.)

Dzununt (Christmas): The Gregorian Armenians celebrate the birthday of Christ on January 6th, while Catholic Armenians celebrate it on December 24th. After returning home from the church foods prepared suitable to Armenian traditions are eaten (such as olive oil dolma, topik and mussel dolma) and presents are given. The next morning males open their shops or other work places for at least one or two hours and they sprinkle the kernels from pomegranates around, which are believed to bring abundance in the upcoming year.

Surp Zadik (Easter): This Great Fast begins 7 weeks before the Easter. During this time church is visited every yday. It is forbidden to eat animal products such as milk, cheese, eggs, butter and meat. Entire foodstuffs are either boiled or cooked with vegetable oil. Lentils with vinegar are eaten on Thursday of Easter week and eggs are painted red. The eggs represent the world. The outer shell symbolizes the firmament, the thin membrane the air; the white represents the sea while the yolk the land. The color red symbolizes the fact that Jesus gave his blood to save the world. On Friday, Easter Cake, called Paskalya Çöreği is baked. Fish is served for dinner on Saturday. Family members visit church on the morning of Easter Sunday.

Surp Asdvadzadzin: A grape blessing festival is celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the 15th of August. In accordance with Armenian beliefs, after the Flood, the first thing Noah did when he set foot on the ground was to bury a vine. All the grapes we eat today are believed to originate from that vine and this is a continuation of a tradition that stretches back thousands of years and is related to the offering of the harvest to God.

Major Jewish Holidays

Roş Aşana: This New Year festival lasts 2 days in memory of the creation of the world. It is also a time for reflection and self-evaluation. It is the time that Jews are forgiven for their sins in the eyes of God. All family members come together at a dinner. The meal consists of dishes made with traditional fruits and vegetables like leek ball, cabbage salad, and quince dessert. The purpose of these choices is to greet the New Year with new and sweet tastes.

Yom Kipur: This is known as “The Great Fast” and it is celebrated on the 10th day of the New Year. The faithful fast between two sunsets and much of the day is spent in prayer. The fast ends when the first star appears. First a piece of bread with olive oil is eaten following with soup..

Sukot: Known as the Tent Fest. After leaving Egypt the Jews had to spend 40 years wandering in the deserts having only rough shacks as shelters. This is an 8-day festival in memory of this event in history.

Hanuka: Candle Fest is an 8-day festival. A candle is lit with the accompaniment of prays in memory of a miracle that occurred in a holy temple in Israel. The miracle is that a one-day- candle burned for 8 days. On each day of the festival one more of the eight candles in the nine-candle menorahare lit with the central candle.

Purim: Not all the Jews living in Turkey are of Spanish origin. The roots of Jews residing in Anatolia reaches further back and most of them have come from Northern Europe and Mediterranean countries. This is a festival in memory of the Jews rescued from a massacre in Iran, as a result of a miracle. Many people fast the day before the holiday. A special sweet called Aman'ın Kulakları (Aman's Ears-Oreja de Aman) can be found in several pastries.

Pesah: The word means “pass by”. This festival is celebrated in commemoration of their freedom from Egyptian domination. In memory of this event the first-born male of each family fasts on the day before the beginning of this 8-day festival. During this period, the faithful eat “matza”, a cracker like bread resembling the unleavened bread the Jews ate in the desert as they fled from Egypt.

Şavuot: A very special festival for the celebration of the day on which the Old Testament and The Ten Commandments were completed. The synagogues are embellished with flowers and milk-based foods are eaten. It represents a harvest festival.

Major Muslim Holy Days

Şeker Bayramı: A festival celebrated by Muslims and it follows Ramazan (30 days of fast - nothing is consumed from sunrise to sunset). As with all festivals this is a time to solve any disputes and problems you may have with other people. During Şeker Bayram sweets are eaten and the younger members visit the older members of the family. Most people actually gain weight during Ramazan due to the numerous invitations to İftar (evening meal to break the days past) - copious amounts of delicious food are presented for guests and it is hard to control oneself after fasting all day. It is normal for children to have trouble with their stomachs as a result of eating too much candy and chocolate during Bayram visits.

Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Festival): Celebrated two months and ten days after Şeker Bayramı is a shocking experience for newcomers. According to Muslim beliefs rams and calves are sacrificed. In recent years Muslims have begun to make donations to charitable institutions instead of sacrificing animals. Despite this however, your neighbor may still decide to sacrifice a sheep, and you might be surprised to see this happen in your garden! The owners of these animals sacrifice them according to appropriate Muslim traditions with the assistance of a butcher on the morning of Kurban Bayramı. In accordance with Muslim traditions 1/3 of the meat should immediately be cooked at home by the owner of the animal, 1/3 of the meat should be distributed among the poor and the last 1/3 should distributed among neighbors and relatives.

In recent years, for many, Bayrams have become nothing more than a chance for a vacation, rather than maintaining any real religious significance. In more traditional neighborhoods however, the youngr people still visit the older ones in the family and in true Bayram tradition the young kiss the hand of the old and put it to his/her forehead. In the old days the older members of the family would put some banknotes inside handkerchiefs and give them to the children who kissed their hands. However since handkerchiefs are not commonly used anymore (paper tissues have already replaced them), this tradition is about to be lost. In some families, members meet in the house of the oldest member and they celebrate the Bayram and eat lunch together. Lokum (Turkish delight), chocolate and liqueur served in a miniature glass are offered. If you pay a Bayram visit to a Muslim we suggest that you not refuse anything offered. Even if you eat a very small piece it shows gratitute and will please your host.

Holy Days
Mourning Rituals
Turkish Coffee
Kirkpinar Oil-Wrestling
Traditions & Habits
Religious Colors
Islam in Turkey
Istanbul's Holy Places
Ankara's Holy Places
Famous Personalities
Legendary bazaars
Turkish Cuisine
Special Tastes
Hubble-bubble (Nargile)
Rakı and Meyhane
Hamam - Turkish Bath
Luck Games
A Little Turkish Fun

Latest comments about this article

 By chrisconway  15.10.2013

Firstly, thank you for the article. I would like to make a personal comment on the last paragraph, saying that you should not refuse anything offered from a muslim household at bayram. If the person offering is sympathetic to your foreign tastebuds or that you may have a medical condition, they would not be upset with you. It always makes a host happy that their guests are comfortable and happy, this is in all walks of life, so don´t eat anying that may disagree with you. Ask yourself, if you were a host, would you be happy forcing your guest to eat something they didn´t want, as happened to me in the past. There is no happiness without empathy.

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