Have you seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The family is slightly crazy and everyone has an opinion about how and what should be done for a wedding. Turks and Greeks are very different, I know, but here in Izmir, they share some of the same history. So naturally, I thought there could be some characteristics matching the quirkiness of that movie!
This month we went to our first Turkish wedding. While the huge family part was there, I didn’t experience any of the craziness I thought our first wedding would entail. All the details were, for the most part, well planned and went off without a hitch (except forgetting the bride’s going away dress I think)….
It was sweet and beautiful, and everyone had a great time!
There are 3 major parts to the Turkish wedding, 5 parts if you want to count the marriage agreement and the engagement ceremony. Our friends were already engaged when we met them. Therefore, we will start our wedding series with the Kına Gecesi or as I say in English, the Henna Night.
Traditionally, this event takes place the night before the wedding and was only for the ladies, a bachelorette party per say… but with your whole family (not American style). This ceremony is a time to celebrate the bride and saying goodbye to her family. During this time she is the center of her family, and she moves on to be the wife of her groom and becomes the center of her groom’s family. The groom attends for a short time in the middle when the henna is placed on her hands (hence the henna night).
However, modern times call for modern changes. Our friends’ Kına Gecesi had a mixed crowd (guys and gals, young and old). I’m sure there are different reasons for each family as to how they perform the ceremony and what everything means.
Shortly after we arrived to the hotel where the party was taking place, the bride and groom were announced together and the dancing started! It was a lively, joyful scene that continued for an hour or so. Guests came and went from the dance floor, and so did we.
About halfway through the evening, the bride changed from her modern red dress into a traditional Ottoman style red dress for the ceremony. The bride and her ladies (all adorned with a scarf or head piece and candles) come out and danced for the groom. The henna is brought by a lady in the groom’s family (one whose parents have not been separated) and presented in a silver dish surrounded by candles. The lady will place the henna on the both the bride’s hand along with a coin, fold her hands closed, and wrap them in red decorative bags. It is known as the blessing of happiness or “basi bütün” (not a literal translation). Are you curious about why henna was used in the ceremony? Henna’s red color symbolizes sacrifice and a readiness to give your life and blood for God (or one another in this instant). Other guests can place henna on their hands as well if they want, which I was told is a way for others to remember to pray for the couple’s marriage. The bride will then dance with her groom and others will follow suit.
The party went well into the night which is very typical of any Turkish gathering. Dancing, singing, and chatting are 3 great pastimes in Turkey and a part of any good party. It was a great party and a fun way to start off the wedding festivities!
Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) is an interesting holiday in the states. Technically, it is not an American holiday but it is now celebrated widely by eating at a Mexican restaurant while enjoying a margarita (which I am totally not opposed to!). In my high school Spanish class, we would celebrate by making food and celebrating the culture. Interestingly enough, it is not really celebrated in Spanish speaking countries!
Which brings me to the 5th of May here in Turkey…
At dinner the other night with some new Turkish friends, the husband shared a unique childhood memory he had of growing up in Izmir. His friends would all spend the evening of May 5th on the coast. They would light a fire in an old tire (where they got this, I have no idea…) and then take turn jumping over the fire making wishe. Interesting, huh?
Super intrigued, I started asking questions about it. Ultimately, I decided to research it more at home. Here is what I found.
What is Hıdırellez?
Hıdırellez celebrates the beginning of summer. Also called Ruz-ı Hızır (or ready day), it is said that on the day before summer starts, Khidr and Elijah meet on Earth and fulfill the wishes of others. In order to get your wishes fulfilled, it is traditional to jump over a fire.
So, who is Khidr? From what I read, Khidr literally means ‘The Green One’ and he symbolizes freshness of spirit. Some say he was a person or a prophet while others say he was an angel. He is popular in Islamic lore as the people who found the fountain of life and now lives to give wisdom and guidance to those who call on his name.
And who is Elijah? Elijah was a prophet of God who was sent to ancient Israel and told them to repent of their sins and return to God. Elijah did not experience death, but instead God took him up to heaven at the end of his life. Most of what I know about him is from the Bible, but as Muslims, Jews, and Christians all share the same history, it is no surprise that he is also found in the Quran.
Sidenote: (From my knowledge, Khidr is not found in the Judaism nor the Bible and from the forums I read, he is mentioned only in Quran and the Hadiths.)
Where did it come from? Who celebrates it?
Everything I read was very unclear as to the start of this tradition and the main cultures it applied too. The day seems to be celebrated even before Islam and into the early ages of the Balkan areas, Iran, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia. Now is it widely considered a Turkish-Islamic traditions with traditions stemming from different regions.
How is it celebrated?
Hıdırellez is usually celebrated in green, wooded areas, and possibly by tombs. Fresh spring veggies and lamb are the traditional choice of food. Prayers are generally traditional and are recited. Wishes are hung under a rose tree with slips of paper or ribbon. Some believe you must say the Hıdırellez prayer for the wishes to be accepted. However, the most common tradition is to light a fire and jump through it. Jumping through the fire on this day is a sign of goodness and will protect you from disease and injuries. From the prayers and jumping over the fire, it is believed that Khidr will bless you in the places he touches.
Hıdırellez wishes are to be hung from to the branch of rose tree: “Allaah, Lord, the People of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet Muhammad, the Promise or the Rapture” prayer is to be read 39 times by May 5th, the remaining one prayer is read on May 6th.
Here are messages you can send to your Turkish friends for the day:
Havalar gibi yüreğinizde hep sıcacık olsun. Hıdırellez’de dilekleriniz kabul olsun. Always be warm in your heart like the air. May your wishes at Hıdırellez be accepted.
Aylardan Mayıs, günlerden Hıdırellez; gününüz hep güneşli talihiniz hep bol olsun. Hızır gününüz kutlu olsun. From May to May, from day to day; Always have plenty of sunshine for your day. Happy day!
So that’s it! Having lived in Istanbul for 2 years already, I was surprised to hear about this holiday! I mean, I know there is so much more to learn about the culture and holidays then I was able to learn in my short time of living there. However, jumping over a fire seems like one I would have heard about for sure!
Have you heard about this holiday?
Do you celebrate or know someone who still celebrates this holiday?
What do you think of this holiday? Have you heard of it before?
Do you have any friends who celebrate this day?
Read more about it:
This would be the most interesting post: Posta News (Open in Google Chrome for English translations)
Sabah News (Open in Google Chrome for English translations)
Hurriyet (Open in Google Chrome for English translations)
National Cupcake Day, National Pancake Day, National Caramel Day, National Be Kind to a Stranger Day…
Jason and I recently listened to a podcast episode about holidays in America. It seems like all of these “National Holidays” came out of nowhere and we have no idea how they got there. But this episode explained how they all came to be. The short story is that Congress passed a lot of commemorative days back in the ’80s, but now a holidays are submitted to a calendar company for unofficial approval for just about any holiday you can think of.
But moving on…
because, you know, we now live in Turkey…
and there are a couple things you should know…
1. There are a few unique national holidays here that we don’t usually celebrate in the states. (or at least, I didn’t)
2. Turkey is serious about their National holidays.
Which leads us to Turkey’s national holiday in April known as Çocuk Bayramı.
Çocuk Bayramı, also know as “Children’s Day”, is a BIG HUGE deal. There is also a “Gençler Bayramı”, Youth Holiday, here in May, and all the school shut down for it… (P.s. – you just learned like 3 new Turkish words there! Çocuk – child, Genç – youth/young person, and Bayram – holiday)
So what is Çocuk Bayramı?
The official name of this holiday is “National Sovereignty and Children’s Day“. In Turkey, it is held on the anniversary of the founding of the parliament in 1920, the holiday is viewed by Turks as a gift from Ataturk not just to Turkish children, but to children of the world (Told you, MAJOR bigtime).
So what happens?
Schools have special ceremonies to celebrate the day. Children all over Turkey dress up in special outfits or the national costume for Çocuk Bayrami. Boys who dress in the national costume typically wear baggy silk pants, a colorful vest, a white shirt and a sequined hat, called a tepelik. Girls wear a long colorful gown called a kaftan and an ornate veil. Many children perform in plays or musicals. We actually saw a large group of about 500 kids practicing for a ceremony.
Since 1979 the centrepiece of the holiday, TRT (Turkish Radio and Television Cooperation) and the state TV company sponsors a worldwide children’s festival in Ankara. Children from many nations are invited to Turkey to take part in the creative and beautiful events. You can read more about it here.
In the past, over 150 different countries have participated with about 30,000 children. While it is usually celebrated in Ankara, in 2000 other big cities of Turkey such as İstanbul, Antalya, İzmir, Bursa, Konya, Gaziantep, started their own celebrations. This year, Children Festival will be held April 18-26 in a city called Nevşehir which is in the central region of Turkey . About 30 countries are expected to participate to this festival. I encourage you to check out more pictures here.
The celebrations do not stop there. Hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, and practically everyone else celebrates by having festivals or shopping sales! It is a huge celebration for families here which is a central part to the culture.
2017 started off with my desire to travel more frequently but for shorter lengths of time. While Jason can work from anywhere, I have a schedule for language learning and tend to be the one that keeps us closer to home. And honestly, Jason works better with a home base, and it tends to be less stressful for us both. That being said, 3- 4 day weekend trips have started to play a larger role in my travel planning.
It’s not my ideal way to travel. Short and quick trips don’t allow for you to really learn and embrace the culture. And you just don’t have time to see everything! That being said, for our Thursday to Monday trip to Cyprus, we decided to dedicate our time just to the western area of the country knowing that we can easier travel there from Turkey again in the future.
Cyprus is not only beautiful but also has an interesting history. Learn more about our 4-day itinerary including our tips and tricks for exploring the South side of Cyprus near Paphos and Nicosia.
I hope to provide you with mini itineraries and resources as I work through writing about our travels. If you would like to listen to our time in Cyprus, check out Episode030! You will also find all links to places we traveled below via the Episode030 show notes.
Spoiler* If you want to know the truth behind traveling, make sure to read the very LAST paragraph!
Day 1: Travel Day – Istanbul to Cyprus
We are fortunate to live in one of the larger cities in Turkey, Izmir. And while it doesn’t have as many options as Istanbul, there are quite a few options for cheaper international flights. Pegasus is an easy 1 hour and 15-minute flight to North Cyprus from Izmir. Since Cyprus was once part of the Commonwealth, it is still a large tourist destination for Brits and other Europeans as well. There are tons of flights from Europe straight into the Greek side of Cyprus if you are coming from there.
Since we were already in Istanbul visiting some friends, we took a direct flight on Turkish Airlines from the Ataturk Airport. Our flight was at 8 in the morning and while I thought it could take us a while to get through security, it was pretty quick. I would always suggest coming earlier than later for the Ataturk airport though! Since my first time living in Turkey 8 years ago, the airport has really added some snazzy shopping, restaurants, and coffee shops. You should have no problem being entertained.
Cyprus has an interesting history between Turkey and Greece. There is a lot to say about it, but I will write the short story. Basically, in 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus twice and after the 2nd invasion, both parties established the ceasefire which is known as the Green Line. Both Turkish and Greek people were moved hastily to their matching nationality’s side and until 2008, the border remained closed due to the Turkish occupation(as acknowledged by everyone but Turkey-think Russia and Ukraine) of the north side of the island. Interestingly enough, Turkey recognizes this territory as it’s own independent nation called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. You can see what Google maps you use as to who believes what. Above is the English Google maps and below is the Turkish Google maps.
Originally we had planned to stay in the northern part of Cyprus, but the south has cheaper wine and pork… the draw was just too much to pass up. After arriving to North Cyprus we grabbed a special taxi that is allowed on both sides and headed over the border. One hour later, we had grabbed our rental car and started the 2.5-hour journey from Nicosia to Paphos.
Along the mini road trip route, we stopped at Petra tou Romiou, also known as Aphrodite’s Rock. We almost missed it because the road doesn’t actually have an exit for the site. The cafe nearby had a parking lot with an underpass walkway to the water. The day was a bit rainy and cloudy and created this mystical mood over the beautiful area that is known in mythology as the birthplace of Aphrodite. The ground is just layers of water polished stones and the sound the ocean made as it ebbed and flowed was enchanting.
After our brief 40 minute stop, we headed on to Paphos, checked into our hotel, and relaxed a bit. The evening was chill and we enjoyed dinner and a movie at the local mall.
Tip – GPS vs. Sim Card: Rental car companies usually have a GPS option for the car. We have found the in last few countries, if possible, that getting a sim card with data is much easier, more convenient, and about the same price. The GPS was 6 Euros a day (30 Euros for 5 days) and we were able to get an MTN sim card with 1.5 GB of data for 22 Euros.
Day 2: Local Tour – Paphos
Sleeping in is always on Jason’s ‘requirements’ for our vacations. Off-season makes this possible. So we relaxed. Jason slept in. I went for a quick run. Then we grabbed a late breakfast around 10:15. While at breakfast we made a plan for the day. Tombs of the Kings, Archeological Park, and a walk around the city center. I would definitely wear good walking shoes because you will walk (and climb) a lot!
We took a break at the local Starbucks. If you know me, then I had to get my country mug! Walked back to our car and chilled at our hotel for a while before heading out to dinner in the evening. Being Saint Patty’s Day, we hit up a local Irish Pub, enjoyed a beer, grabbed some nachos and Shepherd’s Pie. We waited forever for the live music to start but it didn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. So we peaced-out and headed on back for an early evening.
Day 3: Day Trip – Outside Paphos Tour
The next morning followed suit. After our brunch, we headed to a local winery, Fikardos. There is actually a wine route that tourists can spend the day doing. Cyprus has a long-standing history of wine (think…. Greek gods and goddesses) and it is the perfect location for it! We made it to 3 of the 5 in between our stop at the Saint Neophytos Monastery. Ironic huh? Well, in Prague, the monastery there made wine and beer. So maybe it isn’t so ironic. Fikardos winery was the closest to Paphos and the most interactive when it came to showing us their production area and wine sampling. The other 2, Sterna Winery & Museum and Vasilikon Winery Cyprus, were further north towards the monastery and while the views were nice to enjoy, the interaction was somewhat lacking. If you are looking to sit and enjoy a wine though, Sterna Winery is what I would suggest. It’s a small cozy little winery store with a little menu option and a nice view.
The Saint Neophytos Monastery which was founded in 1159 is situated in up into the mountains and is only a 30 minutes drive from Paphos. It is one of the best-known monasteries in all of Cyprus. There is painted rooms built into the walls of the mountain that you can, with a ticket go in. The ticket also gives you access to the monastery’s small museum which is filled with books, scepters, and a lot of other Greek orthodox antiquities. At one point the monastery had peice of wood from Jesus’s cross as a relic, though it is no longer there. The monastery also has a small church that is open to the public.
In the afternoon, we explored the Avankas Gorge. Definitely, wear sporty clothes… and sneakers for this little hike. It is not the easiest to get to, but we found it to exceeded our expectations. The walk from the parking area to the Gorge takes about 10 minutes, and then another 10-15 minutes to actually get to the depths of the Gorge. It is a great option for hikers and nature lovers, and it is family friendly (but not stroller friendly).
Tip – Roads:
Roads are British style. The driver is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road. Be careful! There are lots of tourists out there and you will know them because all the rentals have a red license plate.
NOT all roads are equal. And taking a shortcut road from one of the wineries to the Gorge is NOT a good idea (personal experience). Google maps may tell you it’s a road, but we had a run for our money. The landscape is mountainous and the roads are gravel and dirt. We will suggest to always use the longer route and main roads when traveling between locations! Our little rental car got a little beating from the ‘roads’ we used, and it was not so fun.
Day 4: Nicosia
Our last morning at the hotel was lazy. After a breakfast, we took a long walk along the coast going north of our resort. The coast is lined with resorts, boutique hotels, and apartments. But there is a nice walking path that everyone takes advantage of in the mornings and evenings. We enjoyed the sunny warm morning and the breeze coming from the sea. There is also an old shipwreck still captured in the rocks just off the coast.
After checking out of our hotel, we headed back the way we came to the capital city, Nicosia, for our last evening in Cyprus. After popping by our Airbnb, we walked to the city center and toured around both the Greek and Turkish sides. Nicosia is the last divided capital cities in the world (think Berlin, but nicer). If your passport allows it, you can cross between the 2 checkpoints in the middle of the city. There is a Greek passport control that you walk past, then for about 100 meters, you literally are in a neutral zone of unoccupied buildings before having your passport checked at the Turkish checkpoint.
Unfortunately, we did not allow enough time for any free walking tours this time around, and because we visited on Sunday, most museums and markets were closed on both side. But we did sufficiently walk almost every block available to us on both sides of the city. Our evening finished by splitting a delicious meat meal for two at Piasta Gourounaki and stopped by the market to stock up on some pork and cheese products.
Day 5: Flight Home
The last morning was spent at our Airbnb. Since it was a private room in a bed and breakfast place, we enjoyed breakfast with other guests and learned more about the history of Cyprus first hand via the Airbnb hosts. The Airbnb host even offered to meet us at the car rental and drop us off at one of the Ledra Palace walking checkpoint to cross over to the Turkish side where we would meet our taxi.
And ironically enough, walking the Ledra Palace checkpoint was one of the more interesting sites in Nicosia due to the history it holds(no pics allowed). The Ledra Palace was formerly one of the most glamorous hotels in the capital. Now it acts as a UN neutral meeting point for not only governmental meetings for conflict resolution but also a place Turks and Greeks can come to meet for business. It was eerie to walk through this ‘no-mans’ land and stop for a quick coffee at the meeting place while remembering the harsh history that brought them to this point.
After hopping in the taxi, it was a quick airplane ride back to Izmir and home sweet home!
Don’t be fooled:
While it sounds like everything was dazzling perfection and it can seem like life is perfect, I want to write a short note to remind readers that it, of course, is not! Our first night, Jason slept so poorly worrying about crossing the border illegally (which we didn’t). There was also the time we clipped someone side mirror because we were just two close to them on the road… which in turn, Jason felt compelled to call the car rental company and tell them about (and I didn’t). We fought over what to do, eat, and how to drive to our destinations. In fast the last night in Nicosia, I was so grumpy at him for not actively trying to help me figure out what to see in Nicosia since out time was so short. Then later I got mad over a bathroom. Because he wouldn’t use the bathroom at a place that required a purchase in order to get the bathroom pin code… Can you tell that it’s most me, Catie, getting mad about his integrity to do what is RIGHT and GOOD???
We argued, got short with one another, asked for forgiveness, gave forgiveness, shared sweet moments, and fell in love all over again. But you know, isn’t that marriage? It is, and it is worth every bit of it!
Now it’s your turn:
Have you been you Cyprus?
How do you celebrate your wedding anniversary?
Would you want to travel here one day?
What suggestions do you have for our next trip one day?
Since this is our first Christmas season in Izmir, I didn’t know what to expect. When I lived in Istanbul before, I never even checked to see if there were holiday events in the city, malls, or international groups. This time around, a little research on Instagram and Facebook events/groups showed many holiday events. We did make it to the IWAI Christmas Market before we left town early on our #funkchristmas2016 tour. Fortunately, we made it to one more event with some friends of ours for the Lighting of the Tree at the Swiss Hotel.
The evening was lovely. The hotel very thoughtfully decorated and an itinerary of Christmas music. While either the pianist and violinists played or the choir sang, guest enjoyed cookies, special tarts, and my favorite, mulled wine.
It was a perfect send off to our Christmas vacation the next day and for others a perfect start to their holiday season. If you are living in Izmir and are looking for Christmas events, this is one I would definitely recommend!