What to expect during Kurban Bayram, the Sacrificial Feast
The evocatively named Sacrificial Feast is one of the most significant holidays in Turkey.
Bayram means festival, or holiday, and is used in Turkey to describe national and religious holidays. There are two main religious holidays in Turkey - Seker Bayram, or the sugar festival, which is celebrated in the three days after Ramadan finishes, and Kurban Bayram, the Sacrifice Festival. In the UK Kurban Bayram is known as Eid-al-Adha.
The ultimate sacrifice
Kurban Bayrami commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah. In the Quran, Allah stops Abraham’s hand at the last moment, giving him a ram to sacrifice instead and praising Abraham for his faith. You can find the same story in the Old Testament of the Bible, where Abraham was willing to kill his son Isaac, until an angel intervenes.
The date of the festival is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, making it a moveable feast. This year it begins on September 23, which 70 days after the end of Ramadan. The festival lasts four and a half days, which includes a half-day preparation before the festivities.
Kurban Bayrami is all about charity and strengthening family and community ties. During the four-day holiday everyone’s on the move - visiting family and friends and making sure the community’s most vulnerable are provided for.
Sacrifice and feasting
As is obvious from the name, the festival surrounds sacrifice, usually a goat or sheep. The animal is killed on the morning of the first day of the holiday period. Sometimes a bull or cow is killed to represent a sacrifice for up to seven people. In times gone by, a butcher or the head of a family would perform the sacrifice in the garden or the street. These days, mobile slaughterhouses are positioned around the region. Here, butchers will kill, clean and carve the meat to order.
A large, elaborate meal is then prepared using the meat, with family and friends invited to share in the feast. The leftover meat and generally the hide are donated to the poor.
It’s also a time for gifts - children are given new clothes and will proudly wear them throughout the festival. Old clothes are donated to those in need.
Some people prefer to eschew any form of sacrifice and instead donate money to charity at this time.
The atmosphere in Turkey during Kurban Bayram is indescribable. It’s something difficult to explain to an outsider, except perhaps that it’s like Christmas - the focus on family and sharing time together, and the excitement that comes with a holiday.
The ethical element
To those from outside a culture where a sacrificial feast is not the norm, this festival can seem strange. Some even comment that the practice is barbaric. However, consider the meaning behind the festival. It’s not meaningless slaughter, it’s the killing of meat to bring together family and friends - and crucially, to provide for people who have little.
If you do find this practice outdated, you’re not alone, many Turks think it’s old fashioned and prefer to give money instead.
The chances are that if you’re a tourist and not part of a Turkish family group you will barely notice anything out-of-the-ordinary going on. All slaughter is done in designated areas and it’s unlikely you’ll encounter anything other than busier roads and packed restaurants during these few days.
How will Kurban Bayram affect tourists?
If you’re in Turkey during Kuban Bayrami expect to find most tourist attractions closed for half a day on Wednesday September 23 - the day when everyone gets ready for the holiday. Banks, companies, schools and government services will be closed for the duration of the holiday.
Don’t attempt to travel on the first or the last days of the holiday period, as everyone will be on the move. If you can manage it, it’s best to stay put in one area during this time as the roads are busy with people moving from place to place to visit friends and family.
Ensure you have reservations where possible, and make sure you are well stocked with cash as busy ATMs often run out of money.
The good news is, because 99 percent of Turks are caught up with family and friends, they aren’t visiting tourist attractions as much as usual. Take the chance to visit some of the more popular locations: The Blue Mosque, Ephesus and Pamukkale, for example.
If you find yourself in the vicinity of a family feast, you might be invited along. Don’t miss the chance - it’s a fantastic way to get to know a lot about Turkish culture.