Eid al-Fitr, both religious festival and holiday opportunity

PHOTOSUNDAY’S ZAMAN, TURGUT ENGİN

August 19, 2012, Sunday/ 11:41:00

While Eid-al Fitr, the three-day public holiday starting on Sunday and marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is still being celebrated in rural areas in traditional ways involving visits and gatherings among family members and relatives, in urban areas the holiday is seen as more of an opportunity to enjoy time at vacation spots or in other ways, creating a new trend for religious holidays.

 “This is mostly because of the different circumstances as well as the flexibility in our commitment to religious and traditional codes,” says sociologist Nesibe Kübra Çıldır.

People in big cities, where harsh working conditions require people to work every day except weekends with often only 14 days off every year, have been preferring to spend the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday just like other ordinary holidays, rather than performing years-old traditional practices, such as visiting families, hometowns, relatives and neighbors to offer good wishes and to spend the time together, sharing the spirit of such a holy occasion.

“There are many sociological reasons behind the weakening of people’s commitment to religious practices, but what I see as the biggest reason is that people think it would be OK just to call their families and relatives and celebrate their Eid al-Fitr on the phone, or perhaps via camera if they have that option. This indicates that people see the customs of visiting and celebrating others’ Eid al-Fitr only as a duty to be performed and once they fulfill their ‘duty’ over the phone, they feel relieved and go on making the most of the rest of the holiday in whichever way they like,” Çıldır said.

Ahmet Selim Öztürk, a father of three sons who lives in İstanbul, explained his reasoning behind his choice to go to a holiday resort rather than his hometown: “It’s tempting because Eid al-Fitr corresponded with summer, and so I can have some time to rest and also enjoy the summer weather with my children, even it is only for three days. Plus, I can see my relatives and my friends whenever I want. I think that these kind of religious festivals were previously seen as opportunities to go to hometowns and meet with relatives that you hadn’t seen for a long time. But I can do that anytime I want,” he said.

İsa Hacı Topçu has a motel in Sapanca, a vacation destination for many people in İstanbul due to its proximity to İstanbul and its wonderful nature, with forested mountains and lakes. Topçu seems happy about the new trend of going on vacation during religious holidays as he said all of his rooms are always booked up at least two weeks before the arrival of holidays. “Unlike other people, I can’t have a holiday on public holidays; on the contrary, these days are our busiest days, but I can’t complain about it. Instead, I take my holiday after everyone goes back to work,” he said.

However, this is not necessarily what happens everywhere in Turkey during Eid al-Fitr, as a considerable number of people in rural areas, who are further from the hustle and bustle of city life and who do not need to take any opportunity to snatch a quick holiday, continue to perform most of the customs of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr celebration rituals

The Eid al-Fitr festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor everywhere in line with its sheer spirit and significance for Muslims. In Turkey, people dress up in clothes bought specially for the Eid festivities and attend prayer services, visit their relatives, neighbors and loved ones. Eid is also an occasion of remembrance for loved ones who are no longer with us. In addition to visiting family and friends, Turks also set aside time to visit cemeteries to pay their respects and pray at the graves of loved ones. The doors of many orphanages and shelters are also opened to welcome visits from the public. An important Eid custom is kissing the right hand of elders and placing it to one’s forehead while expressing wishes like “Bayramınız Mübarek Olsun” (May Your Bayram Be Holy). This is done as a token of respect towards old age. Gifts are also exchanged on the festive occasion of Eid.

Another name of Eid al-Fitr, which is mostly common among children, is Şeker Bayramı (Holiday of Sweets), as during Eid, children go from house to house and wish everyone a happy festive time in return for which they are presented with small sums of money or little treats like chocolates, candies or traditional sweets such as Turkish Delight. Children also receive money from elders.

But the festive mood in no way overshadows the religious spirit, which is kept alive through charitable acts. Traditionally, each Muslim family gives food to people in need during this time. “I believe that festivals like Eid al-Fitr help bring together people from different social backgrounds to reinforce friendship and solidarity,” noted Öztürk. İstanbul Sunday’s Zaman

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