Called Eid el-Adha or Eid el-Kebir in Arabic, Kurban Bayramı (koor-BAHN bahy-rah-muh) is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year, and a 4 or 5-day public holiday in Turkey. It will affect your travel plans, so be prepared for it. (Here are the dates.)
Kurban Bayramı, which starts on 10 Zilhicce (Dhul-hijja) in the Islamic lunar Hijri calendar, is also the time of the annualpilgrimage to Mecca (Haj), so both domestic and international travel is intense in Turkey at this time.
Kurban Bayramı doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to Turkey. You should plan for the holiday, though. Depending upon where you travel, you may find it changes your plans very little. Here’s what to do:
1. Plan not to travel on the first or last days of the holiday period. If you can avoid traveling on the day before and the day after these dates, that’s probably good too.
2. Have hotel reservations, if possible. (When the holiday falls in summer, everybody takes off for the beach…but not in winter!)
3. Have some cash on hand when the holiday week starts. You should be able to withdraw cash from ATMs (at least on weekdays), but it’s good to have a reserve, just in case. Here’s more about Turkish money…
|Blue Mosque, Istanbul.|
The good points: some museums and sights (such as the bazaars) may be closed on the first day of the holiday, but some may be open for some of the other days. There will be enough to see and do.
Rest assured, tourism doesn’t come to a halt during Kurban Bayramı, but it does change a bit. So long as you’re prepared, it should be fun!
Banks & Businesses Closed!
Most banks, business and government offices are closed for five days or longer, so you should stock up prior to the start of the holiday on Turkish lira cash and any suppliesyou may need.
Shops and bazaars tend to be closed on the first day of the holiday, but some if not most will re-open after the first day. Major museums, such as Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia, are closed in the morning on the first day, but open at 13:00 (1 pm) if it is not their weekly closing day. A few shops and businesses stay open even on the first day to provide essentials. Some restaurants are open.
Public transport continues to run, and is heavily used. Even though extra capacity (more trains, ferries, etc.) are added to the schedules during this time, planes, trains, buses andhotels are likely to be severely crowded during the holiday period.
In Istanbul, more than 2200 buses depart the Istanbul International Bus Terminal in Esenler daily at the beginning of the holiday, with Turks off on vacation or to visit friends and family, so avoid travel then, or have iron-clad reservations and be prepared for delay and inconvenience.
The festival celebrates the Biblical and Kur’anic account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah, proving Abraham’s complete obedience to God. In the story, God stays Abraham’s hand at the last moment and provides a ram for sacrifice instead, praising Abraham for his faithfulness.
Following this tradition, the head of each Turkish household hopes to sacrifice a sheep or other food animal on the morning of the first day of the holiday period. A lavish meal is made from the meat, friends and family are invited to feast, and the excess meat and the hide are donated to charity.
You may see authorized sacrifice abbatoirs (kurban kesme yerleri) in fields outside of cities. These special areas are established by city governments for the sacrifice of animals under sanitary conditions. It is illegal to sacrifice animals outside of these areas.
Because the main purpose of the sacrifice is charity, many Muslims—especially those living in large cities—choose to donate money rather than perform the sacrifice, a substitution allowed in Turkish Islam.
If you are anywhere around one of these family feasts, you may be invited to share in the bounty, as I was in Eastern Turkey: see the Eastern Sacrifice story in Bright Sun, Strong Tea. Don’t miss the chance if you get it.
—by Tom Brosnahan
|Kurban Bayramı Dates|