Celebrations in Turkey comprise religious festivals, observed throughout the Islamic world on dates determined by the Muslim Hijra calendar, and annual cultural or harvest extravaganzas held in various cities and resorts across the country.
The most important religious festival is Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish), the Muslim month of daylight abstention from food, water, tobacco and sexual relations. Otherwise, life carries on as normal despite the fact that half the population is fasting from sunrise to sunset. Some restaurants close for the duration or severely curtail their menus, others discreetly hide their salons behind curtains, but at most establishments you will be served with surprisingly good grace. The Koran allows pregnant and nursing mothers, the infirm and travellers to be excused from obligatory fasting; immediately after dark there’s an orgy of eating (the iftar yemeği) by the famished in places public and private and restaurants will be sold out of everything within an hour of sunset.
Kadir Gecesi (The Eve of Power), when Mohammed is supposed to have received the Koran from Allah, takes place between the 27th and 28th days of the month of Ramadan. Mosques – brilliantly illuminated for the whole month – are full all night, as it’s believed that prayers at this time have special efficacy. On Arife, the last day of Ramadan, it is customary to go to the cemeteries and pay respects to departed ancestors; many rural restaurants close that evening. The three-day Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Holiday) immediately follows Ramadan, celebrated by family reunions and the giving of presents and sweets to children, and restrained general partying in restaurants; on Arife eve you will have to book well in advance for tables at better establishments.
The four-day Kurban Bayramı (Festival of the Sacrifice), in which the sacrificial offering of a sheep represents Abraham’s son Ishmael (a Koranic version of the Old Testament story) is marked by the massive slaughter of sheep. Only wealthy families can afford to buy a whole animal, so part of the meat is distributed to the poor of the neighbourhood.
During the Şeker and Kurban festivals travel becomes almost impossible – without advance planning you won’t get a seat on any long-distance coach, train or plane. If you’re driving, note that the already high accident rate on Turkey’s roads soars in these national holidays. Many shops and all banks, museums and government offices close during these periods (although corner grocery stores and most resort shops stay open) and when the festivals occur close to a national secular holiday, the whole country effectively grinds to a halt for up to a week.
Religious festival dates
As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the dates of the four important religious festivals drift backwards eleven days each year (twelve in a leap year) relative to the Gregorian calendar. Future dates of festivals given on Islamic websites are provisional, owing to factors such as when the moon is sighted and the international dateline.
Şeker Bayramı 8–10 Aug, 2013
Kurban Bayramı 15–18 Oct, 2013
Cultural festivals are most interesting in cities and resorts with the resources to attract internationally renowned acts. Almost every town will have some yearly bash, though many are of limited interest to outsiders. We’ve highlighted the best below, with fuller descriptions in the Guide.
Folk-dance festivals provide an opportunity to see some of Turkey’s best dance troupes perform a sample of the varied repertoire of Turkish dances in traditional costumes. There’s a full festival calendar for İstanbul, in addition to the summary below.
Camel wrestling at Selçuk, last two weekends, though bouts (between two male camels in rut) occur throughout Aydın province from December onwards.
İstanbul International Film Festival Full-length features and documentaries.
İstanbul International Theatre Festival Even-numbered years; dance and workshops as well as theatre performances.
Takava Gypsy Festival at Kırklareli, featuring bonfires; around May 5–6.
Ephesus Festival The ancient theatre hosts folk dancing plus more conventional acts.
Hıdırellez Gypsy festival at Edirne, May 5–6, with music and dance.
Oil wrestling (Yağlı güreş) near Edirne, late June or early July (see Oil-wrestling).
Kafkasör Festival at Artvin, late June, features bullfighting between young beasts.
Pir Abdal Musa in Tekke village near Elmalı, early June; rites honouring the second most important Alevî saint after Hacı Bektaş Veli.
İstanbul International Classical Music Festival Performances often in historic venues by top soloists and orchestras.
International İzmir Festival Pop festival with many international names performing at Ephesus theatre and Çeşme castle.
Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival The Mediterranean Coast’s big highbrow event.
İstanbul Jazz Festival Jazz as well as rock acts (see Film); early July.
Chef’s Contest at Mengen (Bolu province) – the region purportedly produces the country’s best cooks.
Hacı Bektaş Veli Commemoration at Hacıbektaş village, latter half of August. Bektaşis and their affiliates, the Alevîs, meet for a weekend of ritual singing and dancing.
Bodrum Festival Centred on the castle there, stressing ballet and opera; early Sept.
İstanbul Biennial Art exhibition held odd-numbered years; dozens of projects lasting into November.
Akbank Jazz Festival İstanbul More traditional programme than the July event.
Altın Portakal (“Golden Orange”) Film Festival Antalya; a major fixture on the international festival circuit.
Grape Harvest/Wine Festival Ürgüp, Cappadocia features some of the better local winery products.
Watermelon Festival in Diyarbakır, showcases the region’s most outsized fruit; mid- to late September.
Tourism and Handicrafts Festival in Avanos, promotes the town’s distinctive pottery.
Mevlâna Festival at Konya, 10–17 of month; Whirling dervish performances at the home of the order (see also The media).Read More