LA GRANDE PAIR EXPERIENCE TURKISH RAMAZAN
Editor's note: Observer readers may recall that in the spring of 2003 Connie and Doyle Slater of La Grande spent seven months in Turkey sponsored by Rotary International. At the invitation of the Rector of Cag (pronounced Chaw) University they returned in September for a "Turkey 2 Experience." From time to time they will share some impressions and experiences from their Mediterranean world.
For The Observer
The last week of October and the first week of November
are special holiday times in Turkey.
Oct. 29 was the commemoration of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, 82 years ago. Cities displayed large flags and banners with photos of Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, their founding father, revered for his aggressive role in their liberation.
He was instrumental in the creation of a Latin-based Turkish alphabet and calendar, the enfranchisement of women, banning of the fez and the veil, fostering secularism of the legal system, and pointing the new country culturally and politically toward the democratic west.
The television stations broadcast memorial speeches and reviewed historical events of the struggle for independence at the time of the first World War. Schools held commemorative programs, flowers decorated memorials, and the Turkish national anthem was heard abundantly as ceremonies were conducted around the cities. Turkish pride was prominently displayed.
On Nov. 6 the Turkish Ramazan Bayram or Muslim holy month concluded. For 30 days faithful Turks fasted from sunup to sundown. Ramazan fasting means refraining from all food and drink, and some additionally abstain from smoking.
We have observed that participation in the fasting is a very personal experience, with some individuals fasting for a few days, some refraining only during the week, others quite diligent for the full 30 days, and some not at all.
The bayram or holy time is much more than fasting. It is also a time for reflection, to share with the poor, and to give thanks for a bounteous harvest. Many visit cemeteries and decorate graves, and visits with family and relatives is very important.
From each mosque five times a day comes the amplified call to prayer by the Imam. More faithful Muslims seem to respond to the prayer call during this Ramazan month, and attendance increases at noon on Friday, the holy day for sermon and teaching.
Each morning at around 4 from the beginning of Ramazan on Oct. 6, drums were heard around the housing areas, awakening the people to inform them that they should begin preparing before sunup, the traditional breakfast which includes tomatoes, cucumbers, varied cheese, lots of breads and yogurt, and green and black olives.
Strict Ramazan observance means that from sunrise no food or drink is to touch the lips until sunset, which arrives after 5:30 p.m. The Iftar meal is then served to conclude the daily fast. In many neighborhoods, we observed that initially the Iftar meal was quite elaborate, and often included neighbors as well as family.
Around the cities throughout the country, tents are erected to enable the poor and any nearby residents to participate in an Iftar meal, typically provided by the municipality. Residents in the high-rise apartments often eat together in the courtyards, and it is expected that families will share their prepared dishes or groceries with others who have less. We noticed that restaurants offered reduced-price meals and special menus, food markets prepared boxes of groceries for purchase to be given away, and low-paid workers often received special gift packets.
The 26th day of Ramazan Bayram is considered the most holy day, and ushers in the last four days, a time for celebration, primarily with family.
Beginning on Nov. 2, the students from the universities were excused from classes to travel to their homes across the country. Elementary and secondary students in the schools had special commemoration services, and were then excused for the afternoon.
On Thursday many shops closed for the day or the weekend, and some families traveled to join relatives. Early in the last week, stores began to advertise reduced price sales, especially for children's products including clothing, and lots of candy vendors appeared on the streets selling wrapped candy by the kilo for sharing with children and friends.
We learned that the last four days are known as Seker Bayram or Sugar Bayram where candy, cookies and pastries are shared, especially for children who come knocking at the door. We observed on television some interesting bayram practices among villagers in the rural areas of this ethnically diverse country. In some there was dancing in traditional ethnic dress, community feasting and lots of visiting and wishing one another "Kutlu Olsun" bayram or happy holy season.
In villages children traditionally call at the door of neighbors or throw small stones at the gate to announce their arrival, and then collect homemade sweets.
Another interesting practice we observed was that of children greeting adults with a kiss on the hand, touching the hand to their forehead, then often kissing the adult on both cheeks, in the traditional Turkish greeting, while uttering happy holiday. The expected response from adults is the giving of candy, presents, or money, which of course is preferred. Plenty of sugar flows in these four days!
On the concluding day of Ramazan Bayram there are mixed feelings as families separate. Large modern buses, the typical mode of distance travel in Turkey, are loaded with students and family members returning to work and school on Monday.
In another 70 days, the next, lesser known bayram occurs, which is termed Kurban Bayram, a four-day commemoration of feasting rather than fasting, but again with the purpose of coming together as families and sharing food with the poor.
This late fall celebration seems to be loosely equated in the U.S. to a combination of giving thanks for a bounteous harvest, an opportunity for family sharing, the fun of children's collections at Halloween, memorials to ancestors, and early shopping sales for Christmas! It has been fun to observe and to learn from our Turkish friends. Happy holiday!