East Meets West

Sunday, May 14, 2006


On 5 May, while most of the world is eating triangular corn chips and sipping alcoholic slurpees, and on May 6 when most folks are recovering from the events of the 5th, people all over Turkey are celebrating spring and the coming of summer. The festival is called Hidrellez, and has been taking place in these parts since ancient times. Just as this festival has touched many cultures, there are many different takes on what the festival represents.

Pagan Hidrellez: That last chill of winter is leaving, signaling the advent of summer, so why not skip around a maypole and roll in the clover with your neighbor?

Muslim Hidrellez: The day when the prophets Hizir (Khidir) and Ilyas (Elias) met on earth to awaken spring, which is where the name comes from (Hizir+Ilyas=Hidrellez)

Ahirkapi Hidrellez: A great excuse for a neighborhood party! The neighborhood I work in is full of gypsies. So of course the festival that they celebrate has a flare to it like no other. Combining music, food and folklore, Ahirkapi’s Hidrellez festival is becoming something of a mini Mardi Gras in Istanbul.

The prophet Hizir is a symbol of spring and is believed to pay us an earthly visit every year at this time, increasing people’s prosperity and helping people out in general. I think he visited us on the 5th-there were a couple knocks at our door, but when we went to open it, we couldn’t see anybody. Around the neighborhood there are loads of symbols of luck and hope-sidewalk stones painted like ladybugs, ‘wishes’ (pieces of cloth) tied on strings hanging from buildings, and in the center of it all a nahil tree where people stick their wishes that they’ve written on paper.

We could hear the neighborhood Romani (gypsy) band practicing in the café across the street a few days before the festival, and I instinctively found my feet tapping and my hips swaying to the music. Luckily they don’t play more often or I would never get any work done!

During the festival our neighborhood band, along with several other local and international groups, play on stages set up around the neighborhood. And when you think you’ve found a great back street that’s a short cut, you will no doubt stumble across some of these musicians who, after playing on stage, are jamming impromptu for neighbors and passers-by. We even saw a mini percussion party with a guy playing his davul, his 3 year old son echoing his beats on his junior davul while the neighbors sat around outside their front door clapping and dancing to the rhythm.

If you’re in Istanbul at the beginning of May, you shouldn’t miss this unique festival. It's a great chance to see a diiferent side of Turkish life and truly mix with the locals.

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