The Ultimate Guide to Turkish Holidays
Who doesn’t love a good holiday?! If you are from a Western/dominantly Christian culture, make sure you take note of the holidays, however. You will find many different holidays in Turkey.
Some are international holidays and some are specific to Muslim while others are specific to Turkey. All except the last one mean all banks, public offices and schools are closed and many others can be expected to be closed on these holidays.
Two quick things I want to note before we jump in. Firstly, in Turkey, we write the day first and then the month. Lest you be confused when you see 9/7/22 – it means 9 July 2022 not September 7, 2022.
Secondly, religion and politics can be a very sensitive subject, especially as a foreigner. Of course we are all entitled to our own opinion, but it is not always helpful to share it or to be loud with said opinion. Take care how you talk and make sure that you always convey honor as you engage with locals.
With those caveats, let’s jump in and take a look at Turkish holidays that are celebrated and observed.
New Year’s Day
31 December – 1 January
Yılbaşı is the Turkish name for this holiday. Chances are you are familiar with this one!
While it has a different date celebrate in various parts of the world, in Turkey it is celebrate on December 31 – January 1 every year.
They actually didn’t accept this date as a national holiday until 1935 though they adopted the Western calendar in 1926.
Since Turkey doesn’t celebrate Christmas, this is the big holiday of the season for them. It is celebrated the night of December 31 and January 1, much like Westerners celebrate Christmas. There are often gift exchanges and there is a massive lottery drawing on New Year’s Eve just before midnight.
In recent years, Santa Claus has begun to make a showing in malls and city decorations as they celebrate New Years. And a staple you will always see is fireworks.
Children’s Day & National Sovereignty Day
This holiday is known as Ulusal Egemenlik ve Cocuk Bayrami in Turkey and has been celebrated since 1920.
On April 23, 1920, the first National Assembly took place. According to history, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the beloved founder of Turkey, dedicated the new republic to the children of Turkey.
Turkey was actually also the first country to create a holiday dedicated to children. Sixty years later the Turkish holiday became an International Children’s Day by the UNICEF. It is celebrated June 1 around the world.
While the world celebrates in June, Turkey still celebrates these two days together as they are a part of the same monumental event in history.
This day is celebrated by memorials, displaying wreaths and giving speeches throughout Turkey. You will also often see a van or such with a loud speaker driving through the neighborhoods declaring the day.
A special feature of this holiday is that two children are selected to act as President and Prime Minister for the day. They are on TV and carry out official duties. In addition, in recent years, children have been invited from other countries to celebrate this holiday by staying with Turkish families for a week.
The Turkish name is Emek ve dayanışma günü. Most of the world celebrates Labor day on May 1 while Americans celebrate it the first Monday in September every year. This holiday is all about celebrating workers’ contributions to society and the economy.
There is often a spotlight on the progress that still needs to be made in regard to better working conditions. Workers and trade unions are often seen doing protests on this day which are typically acceptable unless they enter an off-limit area.
I don’t know about you but we always celebrated by a barbecue often on the beach somewhere as I grew up in Florida. As popular as picnics are here, you will often see people not interested in politics or protests also making a picnic at the local park.
This holiday has a bumpy history. While it was accepted a public holiday in 1923, in 1925 it was banned. Then it came back in 1935 but was again banned in 1981. In 2009 it returned and is now celebrated as Labour and Solidarity Day.
In Turkish Ramadan is called Ramazan Bayramı. One thing I want to make sure I clarify with this holiday specifically is these dates for holiday come after a month of fasting. Fasting is defined as the abstinence of eating, drinking, smoking, having sex and any form of immoral behavior.
So if you’re looking to come to Turkey the month before Ramazan Bayrami, you should be aware that many restaurants are closed, there is no eating or drinking anything during daylight hours. While you can find some places to eat during the day, it can often be seen as rude to do so. Make sure you check the actual dates by googling “Ramazan fast ‘year you’re going’”.
It is also important to note that you may hear a drummer walking the streets a couple of hours before sunrise so people can get up and make food, eat and then go back to sleep so as to make it through the day of fasting.
In 2022 2-4 May will be the celebration at the end of a month of fasting. There is a half day taken on May 1 and then the 2-4 are full National holidays. This holiday is often called Şeker Bayrami or Sugar Festival because they eat so many sweets after the month of fasting.
This celebration consists of days of feasting, visiting friends and relatives, giving small gifts to children and drinking tea in the streets. You can read a post just about visiting Turkey during Ramadan.
Youth and Sports Day
This holiday happens this day every year. It is a combination of remembering Turkey’s founder and the love of youth and sports. In Turkish it is called Atatürk’ü anma gençlik ve spor bayramı.
There are many celebrations, patriotic ceremonies and sports events that happen throughout the country on this day. On May 9 there is an annual marathon that starts in Samsun, where Ataturk’s independence movement began, and ends 10 days later in Ankara, the capital city where they give the Turkish flag to the president.
Because Ataturk’s real birthday is unknown, many even celebrate this day as his birthday. You will see many graphics with his photo on May 19. Those celebrating his birthday will even leave wreaths on monuments of Ataturk and flags are displayed everywhere.
Feast of Sacrifice*
This holiday is known as Kurban Bayramı in Turkish. It starts with a half day on the day before. In 2022, that is July 8. Religious holidays typically start the night before and change every year as they are based on the lunar cycle, not specific dates.
This is a religious holiday has to do with when Ibrahim (Abraham) was commanded to sacrifice his son. A difference to note here is that the Koran says he sacrificed Ishmael where as the Bible says he sacrificed Isaac.
This holiday is about celebrating Ibrahim’s willingness to obey God in any test, even this extreme one.
Depending on where you are in the country, you may see a sheep, goat, cow or even a camel sacrificed for the feast. Some of the meat will be set aside for the poor as well as their old clothes.
Democracy and National Solidarity Day
This is the newest of Turkish holidays. It was established in 2016 after the failed coup attempt that year. It is called Demokrasi bayramı in Turkish.
After the coup attempt in 2016, there were strong efforts to root out suspected rebel sympathizers in public offices. President Erdogan established this holiday not along after the coup attempt took place.
Typically it is celebrated with special memorial services for the armed forces, police and others others who were killed in helping stop the coup attempt. It is a highly controversial holiday as there were sympathizers on both sides.
This happens the same day every year and celebrates the Armed Forces. The Turkish for this holiday is Zafer bayramı.
It is celebrate because while the first National Assembly took place in April, they were still fighting for their freedom. There was an important battle fought at Dumlupinar against Greece in western Turkey for 5 days, August 26-30. The war officially ended on October 29. Turkey was finally declare a republic and the modern secular country we know today was established.
For centuries prior Turkey was governed by the Ottoman Empire. While the Ottoman Empire lost all but the Turkish homeland after joining with the Axis power in WW1, it eventually also lost the Turkish homeland as well.
It wasn’t until 1935, however, that this was declared a national holiday. At first, this holiday was only celebrated in western Turkey.
It is celebrated by military parades, massive Turkish flags hung everywhere and anywhere, and gatherings around Ataturk monuments. You can see air shows and jet leaving color trails that mirror the flag.
All banks, public offices and schools are closed and many others can be expected to be closed on this holiday.
In Turkish we call this holiday Cumhuriyet bayramı. This probably the most important of Turkish holidays celebrating the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
As you have read, there are many holidays associated with Ataturk or the secular republic he established. This is the day that it actually started all those years ago.
Earlier in the year the Sultanate, from the Ottoman Empire, was voted out and Turkey’s new parliament voted in. While the countries name was also changed to the Republic of Turkey prior to this date, on October 29, 1923 it was officially declared Republic day by Ataturk himself. He was then elected the first president.
It is interesting to note that his name, Ataturk, was not his given name but was later given to him by the Turkish parliament in 1934 as the name means “Father of the Turks” and was later denied for anyone else to carry the name.
If you’re in country during this holiday you won’t be lacking in things to do or see. Poetry readings, theatrical performances, folk dancing and speeches abound. You can visit Ataturk’s tomb to pay honor by laying a wreath in his memory. It is a beautiful place but beware there will be lines.
There is a special Republic Monument in Taksim Square on the European side of Istanbul. It commemorates the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923. If you get a chance to check it out, it is worth seeing even if you don’t go on this holiday.
There also will be parades with lots of music, flags and dancing followed by fireworks. This holiday commemorates the massive shift from an empire to a secular republic. It is often considered Turkey’s most important holiday.
Ataturk Memorial Day
While this is not a national holiday, it is an important date to note and be aware of as it can be startling if you don’t understand what is going on.
Every year on this day at precisely 9:05 am sirens will sound. The whole country takes a moment of silence to remember Atatürk. He died at this time on this day in 1938 of cirrhosis.
If you are out in public stop what you are doing and follow along with everyone else. In some places this means everyone stands still and at attention. Sometimes drivers even get out of their cars and stop.
So if you’re in a taxi and he stops with everyone else, don’t be alarmed. Take your cues from the Turks around you.
Business are open as usual as this isn’t a national holiday, just a moment of remembrance.
I hope after that you have a better understanding of Turkish holidays and how they impact life here in Turkey. Some of them will be a bigger deal when traveling like Ramadan while others may not impact you at all.
You can also check out how to dress while you’re in Turkey.
Have you celebrated any Turkish holidays? Drop a note below.
* This means that the holiday is a religious holiday and the dates change every year. Make sure to check the dates for the year you are going. Check on holidays here.