What is Turkey like during Ramadan?
The holy month of Ramadan, or 'Ramazan' as it is known in Turkey, is a special time for all Muslims as it marks the time the Quran was first shown to Prophet Muhammad.
For non-Muslims, Ramadan is perhaps best known as the period of fasting, when our Muslim friends refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sundown each day for 30 days. This month is used as a time for prayer and reflection, for giving thoughts to others, forgoing physical pleasures and focusing on charitable deeds. The time Ramadan falls each year differs according to the lunar calendar. Each year Ramadan starts 11 days earlier than the previous meaning some years it falls in the height of summer, when the days are hot, the daylight hours long, and the tourist resorts in full swing.
What is Turkey like during Ramadan?
Most Turkish cities and resorts carry on as normal during Ramadan. Those that do fast normally do so with dignity - you won't know they are fasting. Drinks (including alcohol) are still served and the fabulous food Turkey is famed for still dished up in tourist resorts with a smile. It's when you head off the beaten track, or visit less commercial areas that you may notice differences.
A few Ramadan traditions you may encounter.
- Iftar Gatherings. Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan. In many areas, including tourist towns and resorts, you see people gathering en-mass before sunset. Ramadan is a time for sharing, for joining friends and family, so local councils often put on large scale Iftar feasts in parks, government grounds, even bus stations. Row upon row of make-shift tables and chairs are lined up in readiness for the sundown call to prayer. Locals take their seat and break the fast together with a feast of fabulous dishes cooked up especially for the occasion. The fast is normally broken with a sip of water and a dried date, then mezes, meat, salad, fruit, sweets and no end of traditional Ramadan 'pide' bread is served. People then tend to retire to bed early in readiness for 'sahor', their breakfast before sunrise.
- Ramazan Drummers. One of the most charming Ramadan traditions in Turkey are the early morning drummers. Each day before sunrise, in many areas were Turks reside, traditional drummers wander the streets beating drums and singing to wake up residents in time for breakfast. This tradition dates back to Ottoman times, well before the advent of alarm clocks. For tourists and those unaware of the drummers, the noise can be a bit of a shock! But, what a sight - look out of the window to see apartment lights turn on, locals shouting thanks to the musicians as they go past, and kids clapping and waving to the beat of the drum. Unfortunately, Ramazan drummers are a dying breed, once there were many, now there are few. If you are lucky enough to see (or hear) them, you are actually experiencing a really traditional side of Turkish culture, and one many hope will continue for years to come.
- Cannons at sundown. You may hear an almighty bang as the sun goes down during Ramadan, if so, don't be surprised! Another Ramadan tradition in Turkey are the cannons at sunset. A centuries old tradition, a cannon is fired to announce 'Iftar', the meal that breaks the fast. This is another fading tradition but one many areas still embrace. There are a number of cannons fired around Istanbul, Ankara, and other towns and popular destinations along the coast.
Will Ramadan affect your holiday in Turkey?
No. If you are visiting a tourist resort or cosmopolitan area of Turkey during Ramadan, you are unlikely to notice any difference. It is only during the 3/4 day national holiday following the fast, known as Şeker Bayramlı, that you may run into any inconvenience. In the same way as UK Christmas, Easter or other Christian holidays, government buildings, schools and banks are shut. If you are planning a business trip, or intending a Turkey property inspection trip, these days are best avoided as no official paperwork can be done.
Is there anything you should do differently during Ramadan?
Be respectful. The main thing to remember during Ramadan is to be respectful. The waiter serving you your beer or freshly grilled sea bass may not have had a sip of water or food for many hours. Do forgive a local if they seem a little cranky early evening, they are probably eagerly awaiting the sundown call to prayer so they can wet their dry mouths and get shot of the hunger pangs. Fasting for well over 12 hours a day is hard, especially in high temperatures. It takes a great deal of focus and commitment to complete Ramadan, not everyone could do it.
Carry sweets for the kids during Şeker Bayramı. Şeker Bayramı, the celebration following Ramadan, could be likened to Easter due to the amount of sugar and sweets dished out. 'Şeker' means 'sugar' in Turkish and this is the traditional gift given to mark the occasion. In the same way as Christian kids get excited about eating chocolate eggs, Turkish kids love all the candy on offer. If you have made friends with a local family, it's a nice gesture to gift a few sweets or a box of chocolates on the first day of Bayram - they are sure to appreciate it!
To know more about Ramadan in Turkey, please see our previous post, Ramadan and Turkish Cuisine.