Hıdrellez, is one of the seasonal festivals of all Turkish world. Hıdrellez Day, which is known as Ruz-ı Hızır (day of Hızır), is celebrated as the day on which Prophets Hızır and Ilyas met with each other on the earth. The words Hızır and İlyas have since fused together pronounced as Hıdrellez. Hıdrellez Day falls on May 6 in the Gregorian calendar and April 23 in the Julian calendar, also known as the “Rumi” calendar.
In the folk calendar used by the people, the year used to be divided into two: The period between May 6 and November 8 was summer, called the “Days of Hızır”, and the period between November 8 and May 6 was winter, called the “Days of Kasım”. May 6 thus represents the end of winter and the start of the warm days of summer, a cause for celebration.
There are various theories about the origin of Hızır and Hıdrellez. Some of these suggest that Hıdrellez belongs to Mesopotamian and Anatolian cultures, and others that they belong to pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkish culture and beliefs. However, it is impossible to ascribe the Hıdrellez festival and beliefs surrounding Hızır to a single culture. Various ceremonies and rituals have been performed for various gods with the arrival of spring or summer in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Iran, Greece and in fact all eastern Mediterranean countries since ancient times.
One widespread belief suggests that Hızır is a prophet who has attained immortality by drinking the water of life (ab-ı hayat), and who has reached God, and wanders around among people from time to time, especially in the spring, and helps people in difficulty and distributes plenty and health. The identity of Hızır, the place and the time he lives are not certain. Hızır is the symbol of spring, and the new life which emerges with it. In Turkey, where belief in Hızır is widespread, the characteristics attributed to him are as follows:
1. Hızır rushes to the aid of people, whose in difficulty and grants peoples’ wishes.
2. He always helps well-meaning, benevolent people.
3. He brings plenty and wealth wherever he stops.
4. He brings remedies to those who are troubled and health to the sick.
5. He helps plants to grow, animals to reproduce, and human beings to grow strong
6. He helps improve peoples’ fortune.
7. He is the symbol of good omens and good fortune.
8. He has the God-given power of working miracles.
With these characteristics attributed to him, Hızır brings to mind the gods, who are ascribed superior powers in mythology.
Hıdrellez Festival is celebrated on May 6 in Turkey. This date is regarded as the first day of spring, when nature stirs again, by Christians as well. The Orthodox celebrate this date as Hagia Georgi, and Catholics as St. George’s Day.
Hdırellez, one of Turkey’s seasonal festivals, is actively celebrated in the country. People prepare beforehand for Hıdrellez celebrations in villages and small towns, although rather less now in the big cities. These preparations concern house-cleaning, clean clothing, and food and drink. Before Hıdrellez Day, houses are cleaned from top to bottom, since people think that Hızır will not visit houses that are not clean. New cloths and shoes are purchased to wear on Hıdrellez Day.
Giving alms, fasting and offering animals as a sacrifice are traditions in some parts of Anatolia to make prayers and wishes come true. Sacrifices and votive offerings should be for “the sake of Hızır”.
Hıdrellez celebrations are always performed in green, wooded places, near sources of water, or near a tomb or shrine. Eating fresh spring plants, lamb’s meat or lamb’s liver is another custom in Hıdrellez. It is believed that eating the first lamb of spring will bring health and cure the sick. It is also believed that picking flowers or plants in the countryside, boiling them and drinking the water will cure all illnesses, and that the water thus obtained rejuvenates and beautifies anyone who washes with it for forty days.
Various practices are performed on Hıdrellez night in the belief that Hızır will bring blessing and abundance to the places he visits and the things he touches. Food bowls, pantries and purses are left open. Those who want a house, vineyard or garden believe that Hızır will help them obtain such things if they make a small model of what they want.
Ceremonies to improve peoples’ luck are also widespread at this time. This ceremony is called “baht açma” in Istanbul and its surroundings, “bahtiyar” in Denizli and surroundings, “mantıfar” by the Yörüks and Turkmens, “dağlara yüzük atma” in Balıkesir and the neighboring area, “niyet çıkarma” in Edirne and its vicinity and “mani çekme” in Erzurum and the surrounding area. People test their luck in these ceremonies, in the belief that peoples’ fortunes will also take a turn for the better with the awakening of nature and all living creatures in the spring. The night before Hıdrellez, young girls who want to test their fortune and improve their luck gather in a green place or near water. They place some of their belongings, such as a ring, earring or bracelet in an earthenware jar and close the jar with fine muslin. They then they put the jar at the bottom of a rose tree. Early in the morning, they approach the jar and drink coffee with milk and pray for their peace and tranquility not to be spoiled. They then open the fortune jar. As they remove the objects from the jar, they recite verses or quatrains, and comments are made regarding the owner of the object that is taken out. This practice, peculiar to Hıdrellez, may differ slightly in procedure in different regions of the country. Recently, this ceremony has tended to be performed only to bring a change in fortune for spinsters.
Finally, Hıdrellez Festival, that is still celebrated with grand ceremonies in Anatolia, has been celebrated since ancient times. Although it is celebrated under different names and in different times, it is possible to see the motifs of Hıdrellez in many places. The arrival of spring and awakening of nature have been perceived man as a phenomenon to be celebrated. Thus, Hıdrellez, a spring festival, has gained a universal character.