Religious feasts began in 624, after the early Muslims' migration (Hijrah) to Medina. During the Ottoman times, the day of Eid al-Adha celebrations would become clear after determining the first day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. It was the duty of the Qadi of Istanbul to determine the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadan, the Laylat al-Qadr, and the date of Eid al-Adha. Qadi would decide these days and inform the palace, and then they would be made public. Upon informing the palace of the dates, the Qadi of Istanbul would be rewarded a hefty sum.
Cannons would be fired every day, beginning in the afternoon on the eve of Eid al-Adha till the evening of the fourth day of the feast. These cannons were usually fired from the imperial shipyard and by the navy. Sometimes, foreign ships anchored in the port would also fire cannons. On the night of the eve of Eid al-Adha, the oil-lamps (kandil) of all mosques and places of worship would be lit. In a piece in 1921, Tahirü'l Mevlevi describes feasts in the past.
Feasts during Ottoman times
Public baths (hamam) would be open on the eve of the feast until morning, in every city and particularly in Istanbul. A visit to a hamam was usually left to the last day; public baths would be overcrowded those days. Candy shops would be also open till late hours.
On the morning of feast days, drummers would wake up people for prayer. Heads of families would go to the mosque together with the male members of the family and perform the morning prayer. After the prayer, people would exchange greetings and then set out for cemeteries. They would pray for the souls of the deceased there and head for home. After kissing the hands of their elders, children would visit neighbors in their new clothes. During these visits, children would be given pocket money and napkins as they kissed the hands of elders.
Neighborhood watchmen and Ramadan drummers would visit every house and collect tips. If given napkins or fabric, they would tie these to a pole. Following them, firefighters and street cleaners would visit houses.
Civil servants would visit the house of their superiors to exchange greetings. Since this custom caused great expenses, however, the practice was ended by an official decree in 1845 during the Tanzimat (Reform) era. Following that, public servants began to exchange greetings with their superiors at their office. When the religious holiday ended, civil servants would first exchange greetings with the colleagues in their own offices, then visit their superiors and then visit ministers together with their superiors. At the end of these visits, civil servants from different offices would visit and greet each other.
On the other hand, official celebrations would begin before the feast. Following the promulgation of the Tanzimat Edict in 1839, the exchange of greetings began to be conducted through either letter or telegram, as in other special days. Civil servants would extend Eid greetings to their superiors or to the sultan with a letter or a telegram, and express their loyalty. A list of those who sent their greetings would be submitted to the sultan. These persons would later be sent a reply in an note, expressing gratitude for their celebration. Not only Muslims exchanged greetings for feasts. From the Armenian patriarch to Chaldean patriarch, from Orthodox metropolitans to the prince of Montenegro, everyone would write to the sultan to celebrate his feast.
In occupied Istanbul
Before feasts, officers and civil servants would be given a one-salary bonus. When the state treasury was in dire difficulties, sometimes this bonus was reduced to half-salary and sometimes it was not distributed at all. During the World War I years (1914-1918), civil servants either did not receive a bonus or were given half of the amount.
Again, religious holidays were shortened in times of hardship for the state. Since Istanbul was under occupation during the Eid al-Adha of 1919, public offices opened during the third and fourth days of the feast and all civil servants worked.
The next year, occupation forces interfered with feast celebrations. When a shot was fired in the Muslim neighborhood of the Tuzla district to announce the arrival of the feast, British forces conducted a search and confiscated some belongings and jewels of people along with guns.
Muslim Indian soldiers in occupation
In his memoirs titled "Istanbul under Occupation," İsmail Hakkı Sunata recounts an interesting anecdote about Muslim Indian soldiers at the university during a religious feast:
"Some of the British-Indian soldiers, who had been housed in one half of the Darülfünun (Istanbul University) building, used to pull aside the wooden screens placed in between and pass to our side after 5 p.m. Janitors informed me of this. One afternoon, I stayed at the office after 5 p.m. to talk with them. Three of them came. We received them in the conference hall. But we could not communicate. They brought me some newspapers published by the Muslims of India. We tried to communicate with the help of Persian and Arabic words. Of course, it was a poor attempt. They were nice people despite their huge turbans. They were trying to learn some from us. It appears that they were not happy with the British, either. They said they hated the Parsi (Mecusiler). They turned a room downstairs into a mosque and began performing prayers there. They were not allowed to go out. They asked about our mosques.
"Meanwhile, Ramadan ended these days. Three of the British-Indian soldiers wanted to go to the Beyazıt Mosque for Eid prayers. And I asked a janitor staying at the building to take them to the Eid prayer (Salat al-Eid).
"As I went back to duty after the holiday, I saw that all of the Muslim Indian soldiers had been replaced with Parsi Indians. The wooden screens in between had been repaired firmly and the gaps were closed.
"I asked the janitors what happened. They said they took the Muslim Indian soldiers to the Beyazıt Mosque by early morning on the first day of Eid. The soldiers sat in the first line in front of the mihrab, just behind the imam. During the Eid prayer, the imam ascended to the minber (pulpit) and delivered a sermon (khutbah), and then conducted the prayer. As the Salat al-Eid and prayers ended, these soldiers stood up, kissed the hand of the imam who conducted the prayer and exchanged Eid greetings. Upon seeing that, all the people in the mosque rushed to exchange Eid greetings with them. So many people trying to exchange greetings with the three Muslim Indian soldiers this way and saying takbir now and then caused excitement and delayed the dispersal of the congregation. News of the incident got out and the British learned of the soldiers' escape to the mosque. So, Muslim Indian soldiers had been removed from the Darülfünun and replaced by Parsi Indian soldiers. It seemed that the Parsi soldiers had been cautioned since they were scowling at our side."