Turkey, as the melting pot of the East and West, brandishes plenty of religious and cultural festivals. As a traveler and a keen observer, much can be learned of the country through these festivals. If you happen to be traveling in the country during any one of these, don’t miss out the chance to observe and participate in one.
While Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, 99.8% of Turkish people follow the Islam religion and uses the Muslim Hijra calendar in the observance of religious festivals. Here are the most important events practiced in the country:
- The Ramadan or Ramazan in Turkish is the most essential Islamic festival. The Ramadan is observed throughout the ninth month of the Muslim year, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Non-Muslims must be mindful of eating and drinking in front of Muslims observing the fast during the day as a sign of respect. After dark, practicing Muslims go to iftar tents to break their fast with family and friends. Travelers and non-Muslims are welcome to join the dinner.
- The Ramadan month is followed by a three-day Sugar Holiday or Şeker Bayramı in Turkish. It marks the end of the 30-days fast. During this time, families meet for reunions and visit the elderly. Children also go around the neighborhood wishing everyone a happy bayram. Adults give them sweets in return. Restaurants are full with families celebrating and it’s always a good idea to call ahead for a reservation.
In case you miss the religious festivals, there’s a long list of arts and cultural festivals to choose from. Some are held in the culture and entertainment hub of Istanbul, and other more quirky and intriguing festivals in smaller towns and villages around the country. Here’s our top arts and culture festivals around Turkey:
- Witness a major Oil Wrestling event between June-July. Oil wrestling is Turkey’s national sport. This week-long event is held in Yağlı Güreş. Players from all-over the country flock here to compete. Watch men doused in olive oil try to pin each other down in attempt to expose the opponents navel to the sky. The rule is first wrestler whose “umbilicus is exposed to heaven” loses. Audiences are also treated to a fun week of music and dance performances.
- Camel Wrestling Festival is also one of the festivals that takes its roots from the ancient times. The main event is held in Selçuk on the last two weekends of January. Camels are led to the grounds to fight and the first camel to fall on the ground or flee from the fight loses. In the recent years, animal welfare groups have protested citing the practice as a form of animal cruelty. Organisers have responded with modified rules and practices to prevent animal injury.
- Art lovers can explore Turkish creative works. In the month of April, the much-celebrated Istanbul International Film Festival commences and Turkish films of good quality are shown in the movie theaters. Classical music fans can visit from June-July to witness extraordinary performances from orchestras and solo singers set in historical locations at the Istanbul International Classical Music Festival.
- The whirling Dervishes performance at the Mevlâna Festival is held during December in Konya. The dance is one of the highest forms of ceremonies from Mevlâna, an Islamic philosopher who believed that union with God is possible through dance. Another festive event happens to welcome spring known as the Hıdırellez Gypsy festival. Street parties are held in Edirne with performances from the local Gypsy bands. The tradition is to make a wish while jumping over bonfires.
- Last but not least, the Marmaris Maritime and Spring Festival is gaining enourmous traction from not only visitors from Turkey but international guests as well. Held in mid May, this festival is all about celebrating the coastal region with sand sculpture competitions, fishing competitions, to markets, beach parties and concerts. The International Yachting Exhibition is held at the same time and most tourists and travelers will join a Marmaris to Fethiye gulet cruise following the festival and to top their holiday!
To make your stay in Turkey more memorable it’s definitely worth checking out one of Turkey’s festivals; it’s a true insight into the people and culture of this amazing country.
In collaboration with Alaturka Yachting & Travel