Day of Hıdırellez

May 6


The Day of Hıdırellez (Ruz-ı Hızır) tip-toes across national borders, stretches its limbs across feuding religions, and dances from one culture to another borrowing steps from each it passes.

The ancient spring festival is celebrated from Turkey to the Balkans. The word Hıdırellez itself is a mixed-up amalgamation of the names of the two well-traveled yet elusive prophets it recalls: Hızır and Ilyas (Elijah).

Hızır (Al-Khidr) means, literally, “the green one.” No, he’s not green, but he represents the spring and summertime. Or more accurately, the season lasting from May 6 to November 8 known as Hızır günleri, or “days of Hızır.” Hızır watches over and protect his followers, and is responsible for the growth of crops. Pictured with a long white beard and large white turban…

Hızır walks the earth with more men than any other Moslem immortal…Hızır is the last-minute rescuer from disaster, a deus ex machina, when all other assistance, natural and supernatural, has failed.

Walker & Uysal, An Ancient God in Modern Turkey

Hizir kicks it with Alexander the Great

The other season of the Turkish folk calendar lasts from November 8 to May 6. It’s called Kasım günleri, roughly “Days of November”. On May 6 Hızır reaches out his hand to grasp that of his colleague Ilyas, aka Elijah, a prophet from the Qur’an, the New Testament, and the Old Testament.

If you make a wish on Hıdırellez night…

“…it will come true if one just remains alert enough to glimpse the embrace of the star-Lords Hizir and Ilyas in the sky.

— G.W.Trompf

Before Islam, Christianity, and maybe even the Greeks, Hızır was an ancient pagan spring deity, symbolizing water and growth. He gained immortality by drinking of the Spring of Life.

In the Qur’an, Hızır guides the prophet Moses on his journey. He tells Moses he can come along, as long as Moses promises not to talk. After the duo make a safe passage on a friendly ship, Hizir damages the ship, making it unseaworthy. Moses breaks his promise and chastises Hizir for doing such a thing. Later, Hizir and Moses are denied shelter in a town. Leaving, Hizir pauses to mend a crack in the city wall. Again Moses breaks his promise, this time to chide Hizir for rewarding an enemy. Hizir explains his actions. Soon, he explains, there will be a war, and the king will conscript all seaworthy ships, which is why he temporarily damaged the good captain’s ship. As for the wall, he explains a good man hid his money in the wall before he died. Hizir mended the wall keep the treasure protected for the man’s orphan children.

Hızır is the patron saint of travelers, which is why the Roma (Gypsies) revere him. It is they who helped to spread this spring festival from Anatolia to the Balkans (or vice-versa) and beyond. Today Hıdırellez is celebrated with plenty of live music, dancing, picnics and outdoor entertainment into the night.

“Jumping over a bonfire, something that is also seen during Nevruz celebrations, is significant in that fire is seen as a cleansing force, and so leaping over flames on Hıdırellez is also believed to be one way to wash away bad spirits and enter into the new season with a cleansed being.

— Julia Konmaz

Other traditions include the making of yogurt. And the “play of the wish.”

Everybody throws a sign into the pot holding water…sweet basil, mint, ‘mantuvar’ flower in addition to usually ring, earring, etc. The pot is covered with a cloth on the eve of Hıdırellez and placed under a rosewood.

The next day, girls stand by as one-by-one their items are drawn from the pot. Whichever song is sung when each girl’s item is removed, dictates what the year has in store for her. Song themes range anywhere from ‘love’ to ‘living abroad.’

So this Hıdırellez make a wish! And watch the skies…

Hızır Arrives with Drops from Heaven

Ahirkapi Hidirellez Festival

Romani Holiday

April 8

Today is International Roma Day. Nope, it’s not an ancient Gypsy tradition or anything, but a date chosen in 1990 to mark the anniversary of the first World Romani Congress in London on April 8, 1971.

Millions of Romanies are spread throughout the globe, with high concentrations in Southern Europe and Asia Minor.

In Europe, the origin of the enigmatic Romani people remained a mystery for centuries. The commonly used word “Gypsy” comes from the mistaken belief that they originated in Egypt.

Genetic evidence indicates the Roma hailed from India originally, and migrated northwest through Iran. The cause of the migration is unknown. Some have speculated that the Roma were in a caste that predominantly served in the army. Successive westward campaigns sent them from the heart of India toward Persia and contributed to their migratory lifestyle.

Linguistic evidence suggests that the migration occurred after 1000 AD. However, Arabic and European records of encounters with groups believed to be the predecessors of Romani (the Zott and the Atsingani) date back to 5th century Baghdad and 9th century Thrace.

The European explosion occurred in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Roma traveled all throughout the continent, even up to Scandinavia. However, they were met with antiziganism (anti-Romanyism) across Europe, in countries like France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, England, and Switzerland, where they faced brutal anti-Romani laws or even straight-out expulsion under penalty of death. In Wallachia and Serbia the Romani populations were enslaved for nearly 500 years, up until the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century.

During World War II, the Nazis pursued a policy of genocide against the Romanies, killing between 500,000 and 1.5 million people.  The full number of victims of the Roma Holocaust (Porrajmos) will never be known.

The first World Romani Congress met in London on April 8, 1971, and adopted the 16 spoke chakra wheel and 1933 green and blue banner as the official Romani flag and “Gelem Gelem” as the anthem. (We hear Stevie Nicks was a close second.)

I went,
I went on long roads
I met happy Roma
O Roma where do you come from,
With tents on happy roads?
O Roma, O brothers
I once had a great family,
The Black Legions murdered them
Come with me Roma from all the world
For the Roma roads have opened
Now is the time, rise up Roma now,
We will rise high if we act
O Roma, O brothers

Gelem, Gelem