Public holidays in Turkey are very much public events that won’t go unnoticed by visitors. The national holidays are celebrated with massive displays of Turkish flags from light posts and balconies as well as gigantic posters of Atatürk, the founding father, hanging from public buildings. On November 10th parts of the country come to a standstill shortly after nine am, when air sirens remind people of the exact time of his death. In that comparison the religious holidays are more festive. Not so because everybody takes the religion very serious, but because the holidays are an opportunity for both religious and laicist to gather the family and indulge in sweets and lavish meals.
Last year in November I was invited to a friends place to celebrate the Kurban Bayram – or feast of sacrifice - marking the culmination of the of Hajj. My bayram began early morning with a visit to a charming red, wooden mosque in the Üsküdar district for a short prayer. Although my friend and I aren’t Muslim, we were most welcome to join in and try to get the series of moves for the prayer right. I think it’s fair to say we almost blended in. The holiday continued at an uncle and aunts place were they had been preparing food for days. The women did most of the work, but given the unusual appearance of a man in the kitchen, uncle Metin received a lot more applause for his baklava dessert than any of the women.
After the meal, I set out to see what the holiday was all about, as on that day Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal and share the meat with the poor. In Turkey the streets even in Istanbul used to be soaked in blood as fathers of every house hold slaughtered sheeps and goats on the pavement. But in recent years hygiene and animal welfare awareness has kept more and more from doing it at home. In stead municipalities now offer professional and clean slaughtering. Some organisations even offer to have the animal killed in African countries were the need is bigger than in modern Turkey. That service saved uncle Metin the hassle of butchering him self, as the family had decided to sacrifice a sheep in Niger instead of on the back yard. Later they received a dvd to show that a good deed had been done.
Turkish national holidays
April 23rd: National Sovereignty and Children's Day
May 19th: Atatürk Commemoration and Youth & Sports Day
August 30th: Victory Day
October 29th: Republic Day
The religious holidays follow the Islamic calendar and changes every year. In 2008 the Kurban Bayram celebration will be held from December 8 to December 11.