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  • Writer's pictureAyda Salduz

The Most Interesting and Funny Turkish Traditions

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Traditions make our lives much more interesting. It creates a special bond in society and gives us opportunities to express our feelings. I don't consider myself a traditional person, but I can’t deny that I love some of our customs so much! They make me feel hopeful and happy, and they make me feel like I live in a mysterious world.

We grow up in our cultures, and none of us think about our traditions in detail. We are just used to them. It is the same for every nation, and usually, we realize our unique traditions when we talk about them with someone from another culture. I love talking about mine and listening to different customs. If you are the same as me, you will enjoy reading this piece! Since this article includes words in Turkish, I’ve included a link to a guide on how to pronounce the alphabet. You can access it by clicking here. Are you ready to get to know Turkish culture better?

1. Reading Coffee Cups as Fortunes

Some people may know that Turkish coffee is extremely famous. It has a delicious taste with sugar or without. Most Turkish people drink at least one cup per day, and many drink more than one cup. Until this part, it seems pretty ordinary, but the story begins now! After we drink it, we cover the cup with the coffee plate and wait for it to get colder. Then, we open the cup, look at the coffee grounds, and determine our futures! If you drink coffee with your friends, you can choose one of them to be a fortuneteller of the group. In my case, I am this person most of the time because my friends think I interpret the coffee grounds very well. As you see, you do not need a fortuneteller. A family member or a friend can do this duty perfectly if they are Turkish. Believe it or not, we love drinking coffee and hearing about the details of our futures! It is such a fun activity.

2. Celebration of Hıdrellez

This celebration is also known as Hıdırellez (pronounced by /h/ɯ/d/ɯ/ɾ/e/l/l/e/z). In Hıdrellez, Turkish people celebrate the Prophets Hıdır and İlyas meet[1] [2] each other on earth on the night of May 5th. It also symbolizes the beginning of the spring and waking up in nature. In the celebration, most people draw their wishes on paper. They then bury their papers under a rose tree in the evening. Some people prefer to draw their wishes on the soil with small rocks. At night, people light a fire, make a wish, and jump on the fire one by one in the neighborhood as small groups. The next morning, before sunrise, you can pick your paper from the soil and throw it into the sea or river. If you want, you can burn it or just let it stay under the ground. It is not a religious holiday, even if the celebration is related to the Prophets. If you search more, you can see Turkish has the same tradition even before Islam. I love it so much and feel so happy when I draw my wishes on paper. Thinking about my wishes will come true affects my mood so positively. We all need hope, regardless if you are Turkish or not.

This is a picture of a person sitting on the grass, writing in a journal. The person's face is off-camera, but they're wearing jeans, a bracelet, and sandals.
Everyone can use some hope.

3. Spilling Water After a Passenger Leaves

If you are ready for a trip and some Turkish are there to send you off, you may wonder why they have a small cup of water in their hands. According to our traditions, we spill water after the passengers leave. It is like having a good wish for them. It means “like water, go and come back easy and fast.” These days, older people still do it, but younger ones often don’t. It is sad because it is a nice tradition with such a positive wish. I remember when we went on a vacation with my family, my grandmother spilled the water behind us. When I watched her from inside of the car, I felt so safe. It has had a special meaning for me since then. 4. Writing Names Under the Wedding Shoes of the Bride

Here is another funny tradition of Turkish! When someone is getting married, the bride has an important responsibility: writing the names of her single friends and relatives under her wedding shoe! It may look weird, but it is exciting for the name owners who want to be written. Our weddings include lots of dance. When the wedding party is over, the bride looks under her shoe and checks which names seem almost deleted! If she can still read your name, bad luck; you will keep being single for a long time. But if she can hardly read your name or can't read it at all, we can consider you will get married soon! It also means you need to be ready to do it for your single friends if you are a woman!

5. Wearing Evil Eyes

Evil eye is a little bit of a bad translation, but this is the best translation available. We have a bead named Nazar Boncuğu (pronounced by /n/a/z/a/ɾ/ /b/o/n/dʒ/u/ɣ/1u/). It is a blue glass shaped like an eye, and it is actually combats negativity. That is why when I read the “evil eye” translation, it seems wrong to me. Wearing evil eyes is so common in Turkey. Not only it looks nice, but we also believe it protects us from the negative energies of bad people. It is pretty common to present an evil eye to newborn babies, children, or simply to the people you love. You can wear it as an accessory, or you can use it as a decorative object in your home. I have an ankle bracelet and a wristlet with evil eyes as accessories, for example. I don’t think it protects me. It just looks cool, and it is an interesting part of our traditions.

This is a picture of a wall filled with evil eyes.
According to tradition, evil eyes ward off the negative energies of bad people.

6. Making a Wish Through Wish Trees

Here is another tradition related to good wishes. In some specific places, we have Wish Trees. In there, people tie a piece of colorful fabric to the branches. While you are doing it, you need to focus on your wishes. It is not so common these days, but still, it is a tradition that Turkish people like. When I saw some Wish Trees as a child, I thought they looked so mystical with lots of moving fabrics with the wind. As I stated in section two (“Celebration of Hıdrellez”) having hope and making wishes are the essence of being people, so I support all the traditions that give us the courage to achieve our dreams.

7. Having Nature-Based Names

I know some cultures have nature-based names like Rose. But if you are not Turkish, you cannot believe how common this is here. In fact, even[1] some men and women have the name Doğa, and it means “Nature.” Here are some nature-based names and their Turkish versions:

· Güneş (Sun) pronounced by /ɡ/y/n/e/ʃ/

· Yıldız (Star) pronounced by /j/ɯ/l/d/ɯ/z/

· Deniz (Sea) pronounced by /d/e/n/i/z/

· Çiçek (Flower) pronounced by /tʃ/i/tʃ/e/k/

· Yağmur (Rain) pronounced by /j/a/ɣ/m/u/ɾ/

· Ateş (Fire) pronounced by /a/t/e/ʃ/

· Su (Water) pronounced by /s/u/

· Rüzgar (Wind) pronounced by /ɾ/y/z/ɡ/a/ɾ/

· Demir (Iron) pronounced by /d/e/m/i/ɾ/

As you see, there are plenty! Even my name is nature-based. Ayda is a sweet-scented herb that grows on the side of the rivers. I’ve never seen one before, but I like the meaning of my name!

This is a picture of a running river in a lush, green forest.
Nature-based names are common in Turkey.

8. Inviting a Guest to Your Home

You may be surprised why having a guest is a big deal if you have never visited a Turkish. We care about hospitality a lot. If someone visits us, we can do everything to make them comfortable. Ironically, that can make our guests a little bit uncomfortable from time to time. Just imagine, you visit a Turkish friend or relative. She will offer you, again and again, to eat what she prepared even if you are not hungry. She will say something like "if you don't eat, I will be so sad.” She can even threaten you that she will be offended. Of course, you can say no, but Turkish people love to make you feel like you are in your own home. So they will want to make you eat a lot, feel comfortable, stay a long time, and even try to make you stay overnight.

Before you ring the doorbell, they will open the door and say something like, “wow, look who came!” If you are not Turkish, you may be confused and think that the other person shouldn’t be that excited and surprised to see you, especially if the other person is expecting you. Just be ready to feel so much interest from the beginning of that moment. And if you are not hungry, get ready for a war. Spoiler alert, Turkish will make you eat anyway, even if you’re not hungry. Friends can act more casual, but elders make it a huge deal.

As you see, the Turkish people have spectacular traditions! In my English learning process, one of the best gains is learning about other cultures. All cultures have different customs, and this makes life more interesting. Think about Día de Muertos from Mexico, Cinnamon tradition from Denmark, Holi Fest from India, etc. Our world provides opportunities to discover and admire the differences and the similarities. The best way you can do it is by learning new languages!


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Image Credit: Image provided courtesy of Coffee Geek.

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