Hidrellez

Hidrellez

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Folkloric, Religious (Muslim) Date of Observaton: May 6
Where Celebrated: Turkey
Symbols and Customs: Folk Magic, House Cleaning, Nahil Tree, New Clothes
Colors: Green

ORIGINS

In Turkey, people celebrate the arrival of spring with a holiday called Hidrellez, which falls on May 6. In addition to marking the start of spring, the holiday also honors the mysterious folk figure called Hizir (Khidr in Arabic).

Turkish folk tradition divides the year into two halves. The warm half of the year begins on May 6. The cold half of the year begins on November 8. Thus Hidrellez is associated with the start of spring and summer. In fact, some people call the days from May 6 to November 8 "the days of Hizir."

A legend proposes that May 6 was the day on which Hizir met the Prophet Ilyas (Elijah). Together they set about awakening the earth with the warmth and fertility of spring. Hence Hidrellez is celebrated on May 6. In fact some folklorists believe that the word Hidrellez is a contraction of the names Hizir and Ilyas. The date May 6 has additional significance in Turkey. In the Middle Ages, before the Turks arrived in Anatolia, the land was populated by Orthodox Christians. They celebrated St. George's Day on April 23, according to the Julian calendar. This date corresponds to May 6 on the Gregorian calendar that is in use today. Thus, even before the arrival of the Turks, May 6 was an important holiday in Anatolia.

Turkish folk tradition suggests that Hizir was a Muslim saint or prophet. He achieved immortality by drinking the water of life and spends his days wandering about the world helping people in difficulty. He is thought to be especially active in the spring. Some historians have a different view, however. They believe that Hizir may have been a folk figure who was popular in Anatolia before the arrival of the Turks, or a folk figure from Central Asia, the ancestral home of the Turkish people.

According to Turkish folk belief, Hizir not only helps people in difficult situations, but he also grants wishes and performs miracles. He is especially attracted to kind and well-meaning people. Wherever he goes, health and wealth follow. Hizir can cause crops to flourish, animals to reproduce, and people to grow strong. He rights wrongs, brings solutions to problems, and bestows good fortune on all. Thus, he has become a symbol of good luck and abundance. Hizir often brings aid to people making journeys, and thus has become a patron saint of travelers. Finally, Hizir brings spiritual enlightenment to those who seek to understand the ways of God.

Hizir's Arabic name (Khidr) means "the green one." Green is a color strongly associated with the Prophet Muhammad and thus with Islam itself. To Muslims, green symbolizes peace, hope, spirituality, and paradise. Hizir is also associated with these things. He may have acquired his name in this way, or because he often appears in green places, such as fields, forests, or meadows.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Folk Magic

There are many little charms and good luck formulas associated with Hidrellez. Since Hizir performs miracles of increase, on the evening before Hidrellez some people leave coin purses open on a table, open pantry doors, and set out uncovered bowls of food. They hope that Hizir will cause their money and food to increase as he passes by. Often a window is left open to help the saint gain entrance to the house. People also make little models of things they want Hizir to bring them. For example, they might craft a miniature house, garden, or car. Tradition suggests that the tiny models help Hizir to know what is desired, thus increasing one's chances of receiving these things. Another way of delivering one's request to the saint involves writing down one's desires on a piece of paper and throwing the paper into a river or stream. Hizir is sure to find the paper in his journeys to and fro across Turkey.

Women seeking husbands can also work Hidrellez magic. One such charm advises women to gather in a green place on the evening before Hidrellez. They must place some of their personal belongings, such as jewelry, in earthenware jars, and cover them with muslin. Then they must leave the jars underneath a rose tree. The next morning they approach the jars, drink coffee mixed with milk, and pray for peace and tranquility. Then they open the jars, reciting Qur'an verses or snippets of poetry.

House Cleaning

Hizir is especially attracted to clean dwelling places. In fact, Turkish folklore suggests that he will not even enter a home that is not clean. So, many people prepare for the holiday by cleaning their houses. Turkish folk tradition suggests that by doing so they increase the chances that Hizir will visit and bless them with good fortune.

Nahil Tree

A nahil tree is an artificial tree that is covered with ornaments. These ornaments usually consist of some combination of flowers, fruit, ribbons, human or animal figures made of wax, or miniature ships and other modern devices. In past times Turkish people celebrated weddings and circumcisions with nahil trees. These trees figure prominently in Hidrellez celebrations. On Hidrellez, people write down what they hope the saint will do for them and attach these slips of paper to the tree.

New Clothes

Hidrellez is a popular day on which to wear new clothes. The new clothes represent the cleanliness that attracts Hidrellez. They also symbolize the arrival of spring.

FURTHER READING

Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004.

WEB SITES

Mymerhaba.com www.mymerhaba.com/en/main/content.asp_Q_id_E1775

Turkish Ministry of Culture kultur.gov.tr

Turkish Tourist Office www.tourismturkey.org
References in periodicals archive ?
Popular customs of the cult of al-Khidr, including the Turkish Hidrellez festival, are described in detail.