Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kurban Bayram

Have you ever gotten up one morning and instead of going to school met up with your mother’s extended family to sacrifice a cow? Well, if you haven’t I’d recommend visiting a predominantly Muslim country during Kurban Bayram (literally, the holiday of sacrifice; also known as Eid al-Adha) to observe the many cows and sheep being sacrificed in fields, parks, and yards. It will definitely make you think about the reality and morality of eating meat to a greater extent, but Bayram is about much more than that. During this holiday you get the chance to familiarize yourself with the culture and traditions of the country to a much greater extent by experiencing them put into practice at every moment.
The four day holiday is first and foremost dedicated to the sacrifice of a sheep or cow to represent the sacrifice of his son that Abraham was willing to make to demonstrate his obedience to God; however, the sacrificed animal serves many other purposes as well. The entire animal is taken apart, cleaned, and then divided up- each of the nuclear families within my mother’s extended family was given an equal amount of the meat, and of that meat the majority is given to less fortunate families who cannot afford to get an animal of their own, In this way the sacrifice holds a religious significance but also serves a greater social purpose.
After the sacrifice has been made, everyone then focuses on the other aspects of the holiday; as soon as our cow had been completely cleaned and divided among our family and everyone had gone home, we went to visit my father’s family in Adana. His whole family had come together for Bayram so that we were staying in my grandparents’ house with my aunt Yasemin, her German exchange daughter, my aunt Elif from Ankara and her husband Vedat. As soon as we arrived, as well as previously that day with my mother’s family and from time to time later on in the holiday, I got to witness one of the main traditions of this aspect of Bayram. Both of my parents and my younger brothers kissed one hand of each of my grandparents and then touched it to their foreheads as a sign of respect for elders, and whenever we would have guests over or visit someone else’s house, which was fairly often that week, I would see the same tradition every time.
This constant state of hosting guests and being hosted is another very tiring but very interesting and important tradition of Bayram. Some days we would stay at home, greeting guests, making light conversation, drinking tea or Turkish coffee, and then saying goodbye only to welcome a new group of guests shortly afterward. Other days we would play the role of the guest and go from house to house doing the same thing- conversing over tea or coffee with our hosts. Regardless of whether we were the guests or the hosts at any given moment, there was always the flow of people coming and going, reconnecting and celebrating this holiday with friends and family they may not have seen for two days, two months, or two years, catching up on each other’s lives, maintaining and strengthening the relationships that entirely central to Turkish culture and society.
This hectic but exciting rush that was Kurban Bayram was an opportunity for me to become closer to my family, meet so many new people, practice my Turkish, and see firsthand the pre-supermarket stage of preparing meat to be eaten. But much more that it provided a magnified glimpse into one major Turkish holiday and Turkish culture as a whole. The traditions of Kurban Bayram are essentially the embodiment of so many values that are central to Turkish and Islamic culture, but also most other cultures in the world; the values of charity, the importance of family and friends, and respect for elders are highlighted in every aspect of the holiday and allow you to relate to and appreciate the holiday even if you had never experienced it before.

Me with my cousins and uncle

My mom, grandparents, and uncle with the cow

Me and my brother drinking banana milkshakes in Adana