Another Ramadan has to come to an end, and the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, is here to mark an end to a month of fasting. All shall rejoice and feast over these three days as people celebrate the earlier of the two official holidays celebrated within Islam – the other being Qurban Bayram, also known as Eid al-Adha.
The celebration of Ramadan Bayram, or the Şeker Bayramı (Feast of Sweets), holds a dear place in the hearts of the Turkish people. The bayram falls on the first day of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar; this does not always fall on the same Gregorian day, as the start of any lunar Hijri month varies based on when local religious authorities sight the new moon. In the Ottoman Empire, the firing of cannonballs would mark the start of the bayram.
The flow of life alters drastically during these three days as schools, government offices, banks, and even the private establishments close down and head into holiday.
Everyone looks dazzling as they put on their best and brightest and most recently bought clothes purchased especially for the occasion – and preferably with a fresh haircut. Homes are cleaned and prepared particularly for the bayram, with chocolates and candy at the ready.
The celebrations begin with a special prayer on the morning of the first day. Mosques are always full during these prayers. After the prayer, the rest of the bayram is usually spent visiting friends and relatives and remembering those who passed away – be it a family or historical or religious figures – as graveyards are unusually full of visitors during these days.
Speaking of visiting relatives, bayram is the time of the year when honoring the elderly is of utmost importance. As a sign of respect, one kisses the right hand of the elderly and places it on their forehead as a custom – there is a monetary incentive to do so for children. The reunion of families carries great importance during bayram, so millions around Turkey travel to different cities to see their families and loved ones. These visits also allow those not on speaking terms to patch up their differences.
The drummers that have been human alarm clocks for 30 days every night have not hung up their kits yet as they bang their drums during the bayram, going door to door. Everyone congratulates one another's bayram when they greet each other.
One of the most important traditions is, of course, children going door to door knocking on them, ringing the bells, congratulating and wishing people happy bayram. In return, they receive candies, chocolates or even a small amount of money. It makes the streets even busier with cheerful gangs of kids running around, counting their revenues.
In the Ottoman Empire, the holiday was filled with more activities for children. It was an indispensable sense of entertainment for children to be able to go to a game – or puppet show – of Karagöz and Hacivat during Ramadan nights, to visit the bazaars and buy what they wanted, to meet with their peers and have fun. In addition, they would try to save money for Ramadan by getting pocket money from their parents and saving as much as possible.
During the Ramadan holidays, everyone prepared clothes that fit their children's wishes as much as they could. Most children would put these clothes next to their beds at night. They wake up early, get dressed and enjoy a morning feast. Returning from the mosque, they kiss the hands of their father and mother, receive their holiday tips, and go out to visit and congratulate their close relatives after they eat what their parents offered.
Children of high-ranking people, accompanied by their governess, would carry decorated baskets for candy and visit their close relatives, kiss their hands and convey their parents' greetings wherever they went. The children of commoners, on the other hand, would go to their relatives with their fathers to convey holiday greetings, and their relatives would often present the youngsters with handkerchiefs as gifts.
In addition to entertainment elements such as swings, carousels and acrobats, there were also balloonists, whistleblowers, toymakers, and all kinds of food and beverage sellers in the feasts established in some of the city squares and mosque courtyards. The capital's children would get dressed, get off the swings and run to the horses and donkeys, and when they got tired of them, they would fill the tents of the acrobats.
Some of these traditions and activities can still be seen all around Turkey as people continue to passionately and religiously celebrate Ramadan Bayram.