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Friday, October 27, 2006

Celebrating Ramadan

SweetsThe Eid-ul-Fitr, or Ramazan Bayramı in Turkish, marks the end of Ramadan and is celebrated as a three-day national holiday in Turkey. It is popularly known as Şeker Bayramı, the Sweet Holiday. The name of the celebrations was given due to the customary gift of sweets presented to children and family members.

In keeping with the "sweet" tradition, Kent, a major sweet manufacturer in Turkey, usually makes special commercials for this holiday every year.

Traditional Celebrations

"I went to see the Sultana Hafiten [...] The magnificence of her table answered very well to that of her dress. The knives were of gold, the hafts being set with diamonds. But the piece of luxury that grieved my eyes was the table cloth and napkins, which were all of tiffany, embroidered with silks and gold in the finest manner, in natural flowers. It was with the utmost regret that I made use of the costly napkins, as finely wrought as the finest handkerchiefs that ever came out of this country. You may be sure they were entirely spoiled before the dinner was over [...] After dinner water was brought in a gold basin, and the towels of the same kind as the napkins, which I very unwillingly wiped my hands upon, the coffee was served with gold soucoupes."
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Wife of the British Ambassador to Constantinople in the 18th century)

Farewell message to Ramadan at mosqueTraditional Turkish Ramadan festivities, with an emphasis on the sweet tooth, includes a frenzy of socialising. As any major festivity continued for three days and three nights in the time of the Ottoman Empire, this tradition stuck for the Ramadan fest - a time during which people visit each other and have trays of sweets on hand to offer visitors; children in their "Sunday best" kiss the hands of adults and receive gifts of money. After holiday wishes were made, people would go to morning prayers to officially start the festivities.

A child's day begins by waking up to find gifts of new clothes by their bedside. Getting dressed, and starting from the oldest in the household, they kiss hands of elders in holiday greeting, to be rewarded with money or sweets, custom wrapped in scented handkerchiefs or mendil. Though different coloured handkerchiefs have different meanings and purposes in Ottoman times, a gift handkerchief stood for parting and so it seems that giving money or sweets in the small cloths evolved to denote that the handkerckief was not the gift itself.

Traditionally, Şeker Bayramı was a time for family, for visits to older relatives not often made, to mend bridges and resolve issues, and to generally try and be a little nicer to everybody. It was also, in some senses a secular holiday, as the local name for it suggests and especially in Istanbul, it was celebrated by everyone.

Modern Day Celebrations

Today the bayram is still one of the busiest times in Turkey, however there is a greater tendency to combine several other days to the three-day national holiday and go somewhere to have a holiday. Instead of a traditional time for the family, for a modern generation of Turks it usually means days off work. The customary celebrations have become childhood nostalgia for many, especially in the big cities, although many migrant workers and students in Istanbul use it as an opportunity to go back home for visits.

Unfortunately, as a sign of the times, the religious aspects have been emphasised more with people preferring to call it Ramazan Bayramı rather than its other name. The holiday has also become kind of Halloween-ish in some of the larger cities, in the respect that children knock at doors demanding sweets.

However, as it was in past Ramadans, it is still true today that the holiday is a chance to eat as much as possible.

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