Spring celebrations come in all shapes, sizes and colors. From the mildly confusing Easter (celebrating the resurrection of God’s son with magical rabbits, dyed chicken eggs and candy) to the debaucherous Cinco de Mayo (in Mexico – a celebration of the difficult Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862; in America – a celebration of cheap tequila and bean burritos by beer-soaked gringos in straw sombreros), spring celebrations are held in every corner of the globe by every flavor of human being.
In Thailand they hold the Songkran Water Festival which features a lot of water being flung about by merry festival-goers. Pro tip: hire an elephant. They can throw a hell of lot more water than a human.
Indian Hindus celebrate Holi – a festival of vibrant colors in which the faithful take great pleasure in hurling vast quantities of colored powder at one another. Pro tip: when celebrating Holi, wear an all-white outfit. At the end of the night, you’ll have yourself a groovy new tie-dye ensemble!
Nowruz is celebrated on the vernal equinox in most Central Asian countries. It is a secular holiday that is also known as the Persian New Year. Pro tip: if you happen to be celebrating Nowruz in Iran, be sure to bring a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon with which to whack it. If you put on a costume and walk around at night whacking your bowl, the locals may come out of their houses to put treats in it.
In the Bosnian town of Zenica, inhabitants gather by the banks of the Bosna River at dawn on the first day of spring to celebrate Cimburijada – the Festival of Scrambled Eggs – whereupon they they whip up an enormous batch of, you guessed it, scrambled eggs for the tired and hungry celebrants. Pro tip: pitch a tent by the riverbank the night before, so you can roll out of your sleeping bag at first light and start eating!
The hardy inhabitants of Central and Northern Europe celebrate Walpurgis Night on the night of April 30th on into the day of May 1st. The celebration is named after Saint Walpurgis – a man revered by German Christians for battling hordes of rodents, beating back the spread of rabies, combating whooping cough and taking a firm stand against witchcraft. Pro tip: wiccans are advised to steer clear of the region until May 2nd for their own safety.
This year at The Navage Patch, we’ll be celebrating a new holiday tomorrow night. Okay, so it’s not new to Handan, but it will be Barish’s and my first time celebrating Hıdırellez.
Hıdırellez is celebrated throughout the Turkic world (this is an ethno-linguistic group comprising people from Turkey, Central, Eastern, Western and Northern Asia, parts of Northern Africa and parts of Western Europe) to commemorate the day on which the prophet Hızır (aka Al-Khidr) and the prophet Ilyas (aka Elijah) first met on Earth. The word Hıdırellez is a fusing and mutation of the two prophets’ names.
Look, I’m no expert on prophets, but there can’t be many out there cooler than Hızır. Here’s a picture of him riding a fish. Can your prophet surf a fish? I didn’t think so. I’m guessing this was his preferred method of transportation. I believe he was on his way to meet Ilyas in the picture below.
Meanwhile, Ilyas was hanging out in his dark cave, waiting for Hızır.
This was a hotly-anticipated meeting in the ancient world. So hot, apparently, that when the two sat down for some circular chow, both their heads ignited in flame, much to the surprise of their horses and the two guys spying on them from atop the hill.1
Years later on his deathbed, the guy with the mustache told the story of the meeting to his second favorite son.2
Hızır and Ilyas sat down to a great feast of three pita breads, several pomegranate seeds and some fish innards. Hızır told Ilyas to help himself. Ilyas demurred and insisted that Hızır serve himself first. They went back and forth like this for several minutes. After a time, Hızır’s hair began to smolder. At once, his head was engulfed in flame. Still he offered food to Iyas. Presently, Ilyas’s hair ignited with a tremendous “whoomp!” Still they offered each other first dibs on the grub. Some time later, Ilyas looked up and said. “Hızır! Your hair is on fire!” Hızır looked at his new friend. “So is yours, Ilyas. Now, please, have some fish guts. I pulled them out not twenty minutes ago from my slowpoke carp. You’ll not find fresher, I guarantee it!” We watched them argue for a few more minutes, heads blazing under the hot sun, until our horses grew restless, and we decided to continue our journey towards Aqaba. Only much later did we learn who they were and what they were doing.
There is so much history to this holiday and to that fabled meeting that stretches back through the centuries and across Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and countless minor and extinct religions and belief systems. It would take longer than I’m willing to write and you’d be willing to read to give a full account.
So let’s just skip to the good stuff as it applies to Turks celebrating in Turkey (because there are also countless regional variations in how the holiday is observed).
Okay, so Hızır is kind of a big deal in Turkey. Back in the good old days, the Turkish calendar was pretty simple. There were the “Days of Hızır,” or summer, which ran from May 6 to November 8, and the “Days of Kasım,” or winter, which took up the rest of the year. I don’t know who Kasım was, but he got boned on the calendar. You won’t hear many people wishing for the Days of Kasım to hurry back!
Hızır is also immortal from drinking the “water of life,” and he returns to earth for one night (May 5th) to help the needy, heal the sick, grant wishes, perform miracles, improve peoples fortunes, help out with some animal husbandry and ensure a bountiful harvest.
That’s a busy night! I wonder if he knows Santa Claus? They could form a joint venture and pool their resources.
To prepare for his arrival on the night of May 5th, Turks first clean their homes from top to bottom, as Hızır apparently won’t visit a dirty home. Traditionally they would leave open their bread baskets and food containers, as well as their purses, so Hızır could fill them from his bounty. These days, I’m guessing it’s mostly just purses and wallets that are left open.
If there is something they wish for, they write it or draw it on a piece of paper and hang the paper from a rose bush.
And that brings us to our preparation for this holiday. Handan was talking to her parents last weekend, and her mother reminded her of the upcoming holiday. She said that we must plant a rose bush before May 5th, and that we had to put some coins in the ground and plant the bush on top of them. As the rose bush grows, so too would our fortune. I was all for it, so we picked up a rose bush at Home Depot. Okay, “rose bush” is a bit too generous. We bought a stick with thorns.
Still, it was my stick with thorns, and I’m going to turn the damn thing into a fine-smelling rose bush this year! Handan and I went back to Home Depot last night and discovered a whole section of big, fully-blooming rose bushes. I asked if Handan wanted to rip out my stick and replace it with a beautiful bush. She said no. I was relieved. My stick may not be much to look at right now, but it’ll be the belle of the ball later on this summer.
As my mother-in-law instructed, I gathered some coins to plant with my stick.
But not just any coins…
I picked the coins from our Lucky Money jar – that’s the jar where we keep the coins we find on the ground.
I chose three pennies – one for Handan, one for Barish and one for me. The penny is the humblest unit of currency, and it seemed fitting to plant them. We don’t wish for wealth beyond our wildest dreams. We wish upon our pennies for enough wealth to keep us healthy and comfortable.
I chose a nickel and a dime to make the total 18 cents, for the year 2018. We wish for this year to be better than the ones before it. Next year, and in the years after that, I will plant another penny.
I tossed our humble offering into the small hole I’d dug in the earth.
And then I planted my stick.
It felt good to be working the soil again after such a brutal winter.
Handan went inside to get something, and when she returned, she stopped to take my picture as I stood with our dogs appreciating my stick.
She wanted to catch that shaft of golden light, as she felt it was a good sign. I told her that sunbeams and unicorns are always following me around.
The next day, I weeded the bed and mulched around my stick.
And as a final touch, I added a compass rose of stones that I found scattered about the garden.
So my rose will know North and the kingdom of ice.
So my rose will know South and the eternal sun.
So my rose will know East and the infinite water.
So my rose will know West and the endless earth.
Though my stick has yet to sprout a single bud, let alone a delicate flower, I know that it is imbued with everything good from the Earth and the sky. Handan said a Turkish prayer as I slipped it into the soil over our lucky coins.
And come Saturday, we will hang our wishes upon its thorns.
As the sun sets on Saturday night, we will take part in perhaps the most important aspect of the Hıdırellez celebration: we will light a small bonfire and jump over it. This act is thought to “clean the slate,” so to speak. Turks believe that jumping over a fire on May 5th will cure any ailments and most importantly, it will dispel the “evil eye,” which is a sort of curse upon one’s luck brought about by jealousy or exaggerated praise. It’s like a jinx multiplied by a thousand. Turks are ever-wary of the evil eye and go to great lengths to protect themselves and their loved ones from its spell.
When the sun has set, I will light another fire – this time to grill lamb kebabs. We will sit on our new deck and eat our Turkish meal and drink our cocktails and listen to the nightly chorus of frogs and toads, as we welcome the warm Days of Hızır.
How do you celebrate the arrival of spring? Let us know in the comments below!
1 According to some depictions, the mustachioed guy on the hill was Iskandar, or Alexander – aka Alexander the Great. The other guy was probably his manservant.
2 This probably never happened, and I probably made the whole thing up. But since we’ll never know for sure…there’s a chance I’m right! 🙂