Like a miracle sprung from history and superstitions unfamiliar to me, one festival captures the sense of this country our son will always call home. Hıdrellez, the spring festival, takes place a week from this Tuesday.
The 9th annual street festival is in Istanbul’s old-city Cankurtaran neighborhood each year on May 5. Here’s hoping this finds you in time to let me persuade you and yours in the direction of this night of nights.
A few large stages of gypsy music send electricity through the air, and from one street corner to the next roadside caf the dancing doesn’t stop. A Roma brass band plays for dancing folks in the area filled with others joining in the tradition of jumping over a small flame. Then the band snakes its way down the street pulling residents out of windows causing women, covered and uncovered, to raise their arms high beside impromptu belly dancing men and women. Food stalls in the street serve up corn and meatball sandwiches along with fresh pineapple and cotton candy. Some families set up picnics and grills on the sidewalks. People on stilts paint faces of kids on their parents’ shoulders as fireworks fill the sky.
Pulling nature from slumber Hıdrellez is a seasonal festival unique to Turkey, celebrating the arrival of spring. In folkloric tradition it is the day when Prophets Hızır and Ilyas met on earth, thus pulling nature from its slumber. Since ancient times people in villages and small towns prepare by presenting their best clothes and food. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom because many believe Hızır will not visit unkempt homes.
Some theories suggest that Hıdrellez is rooted in Mesopotamian and Anatolian cultures while others say its origins began with pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkic culture and beliefs. For millennia people from Persia to Greece believe Hızır will bring blessing and abundance to the places he visits and the things he touches. Food bowls, pantries and purses are left open. Windows too fly open to invite Hızır to visit houses. Those wanting a house or garden believe Hızır will help provide for them if they make a small model of what they want. Especially in spring he helps people through hard times, distributing bounty and health. Festival-goers in Istanbul hang wishes and drawings on the three-meter tall Nahil Tree.
Those who want a house or garden believe that Hızır will help them obtain such things if they make a small model of what they want. Some also hang designs of such wishes on the Nahil Tree.
On Tuesday, May 5 the Hıdrellez Festival in Istanbul will once again be organized by the Armada Hotel, where Ahırkapı Street and Keresteci Hakki Sokak serve as festival central in the heart of the Cankurtaran neighborhood. The whole area will be closed to traffic.
The festival begins at 7:00 p.m. Dance until the moon yawns low over the Bosphorus with the Koçani Orchestra, Kollektif, Loleburgazlı Tamer Kum, Mısırlık Ahmet Rhythm Workshop and Buzuki Orhan.
Ahırkapı Street is a five-minute walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop. The public bus, number 81 Yeşilköy-Sirkeci, stops at Çatladıkapı. You can certainly follow the crowd. It’s a rare sight in Turkey to see beer-swilling folk join the conservative, religious, wealthy, less fortunate and everybody in between. Neither religious nor patriotic, the festival lets people celebrate the best of each other.
Visit www.hidrellez.org for details, the program of musicians, parking and directions. Entrance is free.