Hidrellez Traditions: May Your Wishes Come True

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Hayirli Hidrellez

I’ll begin my story on Hidrellez traditions in the manner of a traditional Turkish folk tale. Once there was and once there wasn’t a Turkish Australian friendship between a woman from Istanbul, Turkey and a woman from Sydney, Australia. They met at a language exchange night in Kadikoy and became good friends, going out to dinner, shopping, meeting for coffee and walks along the water, going to the movies, on holidays together, to belly dance classes (much to the horror of the Turkish woman’s grandmother), and brunch every other Sunday.

One of the Sundays they met was in early May, and it was Hidrellez. Hidrellez is a very old tradition in Turkey, celebrating the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature. Turks believe it’s the day the prophets Hizir and Ilyas met with each other on earth to awaken the earth. With a bit of research I’ve learnt that Hizir is a Muslim saint whose name derives from the Arabic, al-Khidr, meaning the Green One. Although his name doesn’t appear in the Koran or the Bible, the association of green with this prophet is linked to the fact that the prophet Muhammad wore a green cloak. Hizir was believed to have many powers, but the most important was the ability to grant wishes. He’s long been associated with spring planting and rebirth, which is another reason he is called as the Green One.

Hizir forms the first past of the word Hidrellez, while Ilyas (Elijah in the Old Testament, forms the middle section. Ilyas (from the Arabic) is credited with bringing rain to arid croplands and his prophesies are documented both in the Koran and the Bible. Ruz, the Persian word for day, gives the ending, so in total Hidrellez is the day of Hizir and Ilyas.

Me with my Turkish kanka before making our wishes.

Hidrellez starts on the eve of May the 5th and what happens to you on the 6th of May, the actual day of Hidrellez, sets the tone for the next year. In villages and small towns all over Turkey people prepare for May the 6th by cleaning their houses from top to bottom because Hizir is said not to visit a house that isn’t clean. When he does visit he brings blessings and abundance with him, so food bowls, pantries and wallets are left open.

My friend always helps her mother and grandmother clean their home on the eve of Hidrellez and then they go out to dinner together to celebrate. After our brunch on the day of Hidrellez, we wrote down our wishes on tiny pieces of paper, before walking to the edge of the water and throwing them out on the waves. Like many Turks my BF believes Hizir will pick them up out of the running water and carry out the wishes we’ve written down.

Elsewhere in the city people will have spent the eve of Hidrellez out on the streets, singing and dancing to Romani music. As midnight nears, some jump over fires while saying prayers in order to ensure good health for the coming year. Others hang small models of things they hope to obtain or their wishes written on pieces of paper on a Nahil or wishing Tree. However Turks aren’t the only people to celebrate on this special day. Orthodox Christians celebrate the day as Hagia Georgi, and for the Catholics it’s known as Saint George’s Day. This revered saint is still worshipped as the Green Man by pagans.

Hidrellez as celebrated in Avanos, central Turkey, 2007.

It’s believed that all wishes made and prayers said on the eve and the day of Hidrellez will come true. Nowadays I don’t get to celebrate Hidrellez with my friend any more, but I know the wish I make every May 6, for a long life, health, and happiness, always reaches her.

Find out how I came to call Istanbul home in my memoir, Istanbul Dreams: Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom.

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6 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. Turkey is such an interesting country. I am really missing being there. By the way, is it true that Turkey wants us to call the country Türkiye instead of Turkey? I can understand why.

    1. Hi Beatrix, Yes, it’s true. They want the country to be associated with the place, rather than the bird.

  2. It’s interesting that these festivals are coming back into fashion. I never heard about them when I first lived in Turkey. Do you think it is the power of social media?

    1. Interesting question. The picnic shot is from Avanos in 2007 and I remember being told it was a regular yearly event. I even met a Turk there who said he had met and talked with Jesus. I do think the cingene Hidrellez celebrations in Istanbul have definitely become more popular due to social media. When I first lived in Istanbul in 2000 few people outside those communities celebrated it.

  3. Thank you for this article. Interesting. Just for info Saint George is the patron saint of England. He’s not just for catholics! He fought the dragon. Saint George has connections here in Turkey, but I can’t remember what they are. ??

    1. When I was researching this piece I just wanted to write about the religious background of Hidrellez, so didn’t go any further. I’d forgotten about St George being patron saint of England. Thanks for reminding me.

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