You may be familiar with the tradition of jumping over a fire to wash away the misfortunes of the past, which is just one of the many cultural characteristics of this ancient annual celebration, Hıdırellez, which is commemorated with live music and dancing into the night. A custom also popular amongst Turkey's Roma communities, some of the most well-known neighborhoods that house them are transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere over the evening of May 5 and into the early hours of May 6, to usher in spring, the harvest and hence abundance. The history of this celebration dates back to the belief that one day a year the prophets Hızır (Al-Khidr), associated with spring, rebirth and granting wishes, and Ilyas (Elijah), who is believed to bring rain, meet on earth, creating an envelope of time, over the eve of May 5 to May 6 in which the wishes of the deserving may be granted. One of the lesser known customs is to make a wish on that night, whether by tying a piece of fabric to a tree or writing a note and sending it off by sea. Nonetheless, Hıdırellez and its carnival-like atmosphere is an event not to be missed in Turkey.
Kakava Festival in Edirne
The Thracian capital of Edirne, a western province bordering Bulgaria and Greece, is considered to be the heart of Turkey's gypsy community, and every year they celebrate this day, which is referred to in this region as the Kakava Festival, in the historic Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling stadium which was once the Inner Palace (Sarayiçi), serving as the private hunting grounds for Ottoman sultans. Tens of thousands come from all over Turkey to attend this event, which has live music, dance as well as bonfire jumping and the nearby Tunca River from where wishes are ushered off in the waves according to custom.
Tenekeli neighborhood in İzmir
Jumping over fire is one of the traditions of Hıdırellez.
On the evening of May 5 each year, the Tenekeli neighborhood in Izmir transforms into a carnival-like atmosphere with streets lit up with lights, music, dancing and of course, the beloved bonfire. Throngs of people flock to this colorful neighborhood and walk the streets, while dancing to music played on the streets in what is a fun festivity.
Hıdırellez in Ahırkapı
Organized by the Ahırkapı Musicians Association yearly on the evening of May 5, this colorful neighborhood in Istanbul comes to life with travelling musicians, pop-up performances and dancing as far as the eye can see, as it gets quite crowded. Celebrations take place from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and are free and centered around Keresteci Hakkı and Şadırvan streets.
While the steadfast tradition in Turkey is to experience Hıdırellez among the locals in neighborhoods that traditionally do so, this year a number of live music venues have also organized events on the eve with stellar musical performances that guarantee a great time.
Dolapdere Big Gang
Located off of Nevizade Street in the heart of Beyoğlu, Sanat Performance will host a special evening of performances by the Dolapdere Big Gang, Oryantal Didem and the Beyoğlu Roman Orkestrası. A special treat to watch live, if you haven't heard of the Dolapdere Big Band it is time you do. They perform western rock and pop classics with instruments and melodies from the east. Some of their covers include "Big in Japan," "Smoke on the Water" and "Englishman in New York," which they perform playing instruments such as the qanun, darbuka and clarinet. Meanwhile, Oryantal Didem is one of Turkey's best-known belly dancers. The event begins at 10 p.m. and general entrance tickets start at TL 40 ($10), with VIP seating options, and are available on Biletix.
Kolektif Istanbul and Luxus
This year, the Bosporus University Alumni Association's upper garden will be the setting for an evening of musical collectives that make dancing near mandatory. While doors open at 2 p.m., live musical performances start at 6 p.m. with Kumpanya Istanbul, consisting of six musicians hailing from Thrace, led by well-known zurna player Ahmet Özden. At 6 p.m., the popular Turkish group Luxus takes the stage. Blending Turkish, gypsy and world music, Luxus have a well-deserved steady following of fans, and watching them perform live is truly a wonderful experience. At 9:30 p.m., headliners Kolektif Istanbul will grace the stage with a surprise guest. Formed in 2006 by French expat Richard Laniepce who plays saxophone and the bagpipes and his wife Aslı Doğan on vocals and trumpet, Kolektif Istanbul are one of Turkey's longest-standing fusion bands that blend traditional Anatolian and Balkan melodies with jazz and funk improvisations. Famed for their live shows, Kolektif Istanbul have released four albums and performed at music festivals all over the world.
In addition to stellar musical performances, there will also be stands set up selling street food and handcrafts, a children's activities area, workshops and a "wishing tree." Tickets are available on Biletix and cost TL 35 for alumni and university students and TL 55 for general admission.
Sulukule Roman Orkestrası
The IF Performance Hall in Ataşehir will host a full evening of events for Hıdırellez. In addition to belly dancers and fortunetellers on site, the all-female fasıl ensemble Altın Kızlar will perform followed by the Sulukule Roman Orkestrası. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets cost TL 44 and are available on Biletix or at the door.
The Ahırkapı Roman Orkestrası
Held at Küçükçiftlik Park, from May 4 to 6, Floralfest, which celebrates flowers and florists and consists of floral-related activities, such as workshops, tastings and gift stands, will be celebrating Hıdırellez on Saturday May 5 with a special performance by the Ahırkapı Roman Orkestrası. While the festival primarily takes place during the day on Saturday, Floralfest lasts into the night, transforming into a Hıdırellez celebration from 8 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are TL 30 if purchased in advance and TL 35 on the day.