a) Official public holidays
“New Year’s Day” (January 1) is a holiday to celebrate the end of the year which has passed and the beginning of a new year. It has nothing to do with Christmas with which it is sometimes confused. This holiday starts in the afternoon of December 31 and continues until the end of January 1. People start sending greeting cards for the coming of the new year from a few weeks before. Some people send greetings by telephone only. Buying small gifts for family and friends is also becoming common. Preparing a variety of foods, social gatherings and having fun by playing the most common New Year’s game tombala (bingo), listening to music and watching television, as TV channels broadcast their best programs, are among the things enjoyed over this holiday. Some people prefer traveling, going to resorts to ski or to places of entertainment on the New Year’s Eve.
There is another group of people who, under the influence of the Christian Western world, enjoy themselves with Christmas celebrations (Christmas trees and Father Christmas costumes, etc.).
From the nationalistic point of view, these are important days because they give people the opportunity to feel and exhibit national unity. On these days all ceremonial activities are carried out by official institutions like schools, state organizations or military forces, and people join these activities. Preparations in schools or military places start from a few weeks before with rehearsals for performances. Students and others who take part in the parades or shows are smartly and colorfully dressed. Ceremonies follow the parades in halls, stadiums or school courtyards. Poems are recited, and speeches are given, followed by fireworks or cannon shots.
April 23 is “National Independence and Children’s Day”. On this date in 1920 the Turkish Grand National Assembly was established in Ankara by Mustafa Kemal. As this was the written record of the transition from a religious community to a nation, this date was accepted as a national holiday. From 1929 onward it was declared as the first Children’s Day in the World by Kemal Ataturk, as he acknowledged the importance of children for the futures of nations.
May 19 is “Ataturk Commemoration, Youth and Sports Day”. On this date in 1919, Mustafa Kemal set foot on Anatolia at the Black Sea port of Samsun which marks the beginning of his organizing the nationalist forces before the Independence War.
August 30 is “Victory Day”. On this date in 1922, the fifth day of the big attack against the Greeks, the Dumlupinar Battle under the command of Mustafa Kemal was won and determined the result of the Independence War. This big attack ended in Izmir with the defeat of the Greeks on September 9.
October 29 is “Republic Day”. The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1923.
b) Religious holidays
There are two religious holidays or feasts, the first is Seker Bayrami (3 days) which comes immediately after 30 days of fasting in the Ramadan and the second is Kurban Bayrami (4 days) which follows 70 days after Seker Bayrami. In Turkish, Bayram is “feast” or “holiday”, seker is “sweets” and kurban is a “sacrifice”.
The dates of religious holidays come 10 days earlier each year because of the difference between the Lunar Year (354 days) and the Solar Year (365 days). Although not all the people in Anatolia are religious, these religious feasts are very traditional and have become essential. They are taken as seriously as Christmas is in the Christian world. People make lots of preparations in celebration of these feasts like cleaning houses, shopping, buying feast gifts, new clothes, sending greeting cards and so forth.
On the first day of the feast, very early in the morning, people get up, wash themselves, wear fragrance or cologne and put on their new clothes. The majority of the male population go to mosques for the early morning prayer which is extremely important. School aged children are also taken to mosques by their fathers or older relatives in order to make them acquire the habit of going to prayers. So many people go to mosques that they do not fit inside or even in the courtyard. When this is the case, they take small carpets from home to mosques, put them in the streets near the mosque and join in with the service. The Imams give sermons as this is an opportunity to preach to so many people together. The dominant subject these days is peace, and they always try to encourage brotherhood and general goodwill among all. After prayers in the mosque everybody gives feast greeting to each other by shaking hands. The next stage is at home where feast greetings continue. In the traditional extended families these greetings do not take too much time as all members are at the same place. But in nuclear families it might take a much longer time. Couples with their children visit their parents or grandparents, give gifts, kiss their hands, and they eat candies or chocolates. Children are pleased as they are given some pocket money in addition to candies.
Another place which should not be missed is a visit to the cemetery where the deceased members of the family are buried and need to be remembered. Flowers are taken and the soil of the grave is watered. Meanwhile family members read from the Koran in the name of the deceased.
The main visiting is over and now it is the time for some shopkeepers to open shops. Children are eager to spend their pocket money in grocery shops or amusement parks. In the following days visits among friends, neighbors and other relatives will continue in festive spirit. For people living far away from their families, feasts are a good reason to come together so lots of people travel distances in order to make this possible.
Kurban Bayrami is the same as Seker Bayrami except the additional sacrifice as the name of the feast bears.
The sacrificial animal, a ram, a goat or any of the cattle will be made ready to sacrifice and from the first morning onward, at anytime, will be sacrificed by one of the members of the family or somebody who represents him. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts; one for the poor, one for the neighbors and relatives and the last is for the family. The sacrificing is generally done in courtyards of houses or if these do not exist then it is conducted in specially arranged public places. People can also make a donation to the same value of a sacrifice to a charity instead of doing it themselves.