I did say that I was going to write again about guest culture in Turkey and I couldn’t think of a better explanation other than Bayram. For those of you still getting used to Turkey Bayram means a holiday and there are many of them throughout the year but two of them are more significant than others. The first is the Bayram that follows the Ramadan month of fasting known as Şeker Bayramı (Eid ul Fitr in Arabic/Sugar Feast in English). The second is Kurban Bayramı (Eid Ul Adha in Arabic/ Feast of the Sacrifice in Turkish). There is lots of information about the religious meaning of these holidays which I recommend you read if you are learning about Turkish culture. What I would like to discuss is the way in which these holidays are celebrated in Turkey.
There is a great atmosphere in the days leading up to Bayram in Turkey as the women prepare planning their food feasts. There is a lot of borek, dolma and a lot of cakes. Shop like koska are popular during this time of year. Koska is a shop which sells lots of sweets such as Turkish delights..basically it’s a candy lovers heaven. Although the bayram after Ramadan is known as the sugar feast, you eat just as much sweets during both! Obviously the meat which comes from the sacrificed animal during Kurban Bayramı plays an important part of the meals. I remember how I wanted to go to see the animal being sacrificed and everyone looking at me as if I was strange. I thought that it was a family event which everyone goes to. When my father in law came back with blood on his clothes and they explained how the streets are very bloody, I was glad I didn’t go. I was quite surprised at how little religious meaning both holidays have. It is a little like Christmas in Ireland where nobody really knows what they are celebrating and it is more about the presents.
This brings me to my next point. Bayram is pretty much a getaway time. Last Seker Bayrami I was returning from Greece. It was on a Friday too which made it worse. Oh how I hated Istanbul that day…it was unbearable. We entered Istanbul on the coach and we were stuck in traffic for 3 hours. Yes 3 hours just in Istanbul. We never even made it to the Otogar as we had to walk the last bit of the way since traffic had literally stopped. It was a pure nightmare. Everyone deserts Istanbul during Bayram either for a holiday or because they originally come from a different part of the country where their family still live. It reminds me of an article I read by Ahmet Hakan, who writes for Hurriyet Daily News. He was discussing why people should stay in Istanbul during Bayram and I couldn’t agree more. In his words:
First reason is that you kind of fly to Bebek from Nişantaşı in six minutes. You pass through deserted bridges. You walk along İstiklal Street without bumping into anybody.
Second reason is that whichever restaurant or café you step it, it is as if you have rented the entire venue to throw a private party for your own self and your friends.
The third reason is that in every step you take, in every breath you take, you remember the enormous crowds in Bodrum and Çeşme and say to yourself, “I’m so glad I stayed here…”
He is so right. It is actually the most peaceful time of the year in Istanbul. No traffic, what more could you ask for?
Now on to more annoying things. Even though the streets are peaceful, you will likely be visiting homes and they will be crowded. For older relatives you visit you should kiss their hand and then touch it to your forehead. This was so awkward at first. I remember a few times I put their hand to my forehead and then would kiss. It is still strange for me. After years of not much physical contact with guests in my own culture it is a big change to kiss and hug everyone you don’t even know very well never mind kissing hands. It brings you out of your comfort zone but you just have to push yourself to overcome your own beliefs. If you make it awkward, it will be awkward for them. For them this is completely normal so you have no reason to feel you are doing something strange. This is harder said than done of course. We often are stubborn in our own ways even though we may complain about how Turks are not willing to compromise on cultural issues. How willing are we to change though is a question we must ask ourselves a lot when we live in a different environment.
My status of ‘gelin’ means work at Bayram. Visitors come and I must serve them tea. It annoys me that they don’t have cups like we have in Ireland, it would certainly save me more trips to the kitchen. I just can’t relax when there are several people drinking tea in such small glasses and you have to watch who finishes. However this is the least of my worries. You will have visitors all day coming and going and you will be running around the place serving everyone. Even though it is good that visitors won’t stay long because they have other houses to visit, it is negated by the volume of visitors. We are much more laid back about visitors in Ireland. Come in, do you want a cup of tea? Ah that is grand sit back and let’s have a chat. I don’t feel like that In Turkey. I often find when guests come or when you go to their home there is a lot of showing off in Turkey. Everything has to be in perfect order and comments on food are very important. There is always one older aunt who has to say something like it isn’t salty or it is too salty. You know the ones you can’t impress. The days leading up to Bayram involve a complete cleaning of the home in areas you didn’t think existed.
Anyway usually by the last day you have time for yourself to go and enjoy the day in Istanbul. One year we actually spent our day travelling to Heybeliada. Such a great time of the year to go to the Princes Islands, which in themselves need a separate post. Another thing people like to do during Bayram is visiting the graveyard of loved ones who have passed away.
I would like to experience Bayram in a smaller town in Turkey to see the differences between there and Istanbul. I wonder is it a more religious experience or is it the same. Anyway if you do spend time in Istanbul during Ramadan just be aware of a few things. Do not leave everything to the day before Bayram as banks and shops are very busy during this time. If you plan to leave Istanbul for Bayram, please travel 2 days before and not the day before because you will be stuck in traffic for hours. If you really can’t do this then go very early in the morning, very early! In my opinion though, you should spend time in Istanbul during Bayram because you can get around so much better and it won’t be as crowded.