OLD FEASTS IN ISTANBULFor Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan almost bears a personality; "the sultan of eleven months" it is often called. Like a traveler long-awaited, "Welcome oh month of Ramadan" is written between minarets with luminous letters when it arrives, and "Farewell", when it leaves. It’s believed that it brings abundance to dinner tables and goodness to homes. In the Quran, it’s indicated that the Quran was started to be revealed in Ramadan.
Ramadan, where Muslims fast for a month, is also a period in which certain customs emerged in time, such as lighting oil-lamps in mosques, setting up mahya between minarets, hosting fast-breaking meals, helping the ones in need more often, announcing the sahur time (when fasting starts) with drums played in the streets, arranging entertainments in the evenings, and cooking dishes particular to Ramadan.
The Ramadan Feast, celebrated at the end of Ramadan, is also rich in terms of customs. In the Ottoman era the feast would start in the morning with performing prayers. The feast was a source of joy especially for kids. Younger ones would kiss elders’ hands, while elders would give presents to friends and kids, and tip to wardens, street sweepers, firefighters and Ramadan drummers. It was a custom to serve visitors candies or desserts first, and Turkish coffee afterwards. These traditions continued up until today almost without changing, however there are those lost in time with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
In the Ottoman Empire, a certain program was followed at the feast festivals. Beginning with artillery shootings on the eve of the first day, the feast would end, again, with artillery shootings in the evening of the last day. The open entertainment areas set up in the morning of the first day were called "feast places". The feast places were set in the squares of Üsküdar, Galata, Kadıköy, Beyoglu, Kasımpaşa, Beşiktaş, Fatih, Edirnekapı, Aksaray, Yedikule and Kadırga. The most famous of these were the ones in Fatih Square and at the courtyard of Şehzade Mosque. Ferris wheels, carousels and swings would be set up and sports games would be organized in those feast places, where jugglers, meddahs (traditional Turkish theater performers) and magicians would also perform. In the larger ceremonies there were light-shows with oil-lamps, mahyas and fireworks.
Most of these traditions have vanished, Istanbulites do not wake up to the feast with long-gone artillery shootings anymore, but the joy kids feel in the feast mornings is still here.