The Sugar Feast (Şeker Bayramı or Eid ul-Fitr) is the three day festival following Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr is the Arabic name of this religious holiday. Eid meaning “festivity” and Fitr meaning “original nature.” It refers to the restoration of one’s best human composition and the celebration of the end of the thirty days of fasting during Ramadan.
Bayram is the term used in Turkish for holidays celebrated nation-wide, both official and religious. There are two terms in Turkish for this holiday. Ramazan Bayramı (Ramadan Feast) takes its name from the Ramadan. Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Feast) comes by courtesy of the special and mostly sweet food served to visitors.
What Does Şeker Bayramı Mean for the Locals?
During this three day celebration the flow of life changes drastically. For locals it means holiday since schools, government offices, banks and even the private establishments are closed for three and a half days starting from noon the eve (arife) of the holiday. Arife is the day to get ready for the holiday.
People clean their houses, they go shopping for candies and chocolate, they prepare traditional pastries like baklava, get a haircut and perform similar personal maintenance. It is important to look dashing with recently, special for the occasion purchased clothes. This attire is called bayramlık.
It is strictly forbidden to fast the first day of the holiday, so a light breakfast is recommended as a sign of not fasting that day. Then, as a prophetic tradition, the obligatory charity (Sadaqat-ul-fitr), is paid to the poor and the needy. Afterwards, the men perform the Bayram (Eid) prayer in their neighborhood mosques. The rest of the three days people visit relatives and friends, and may also go to the graveyards to pay their respect to the deceased.
During the Sugar Feast it is important to honor the elderly; therefore mostly the younger generation visit the older ones. Kissing the right hand of the elderly and placing it on the forehead is a custom to show respect and greet them for the bayram. People greet each other by saying Bayramınız Kutlu/Mübarek Olsun, meaning “May Your Feast Be Blessed”.
One of my personal favorites of the Sugar Feast is the tradition of children going around in their neighborhood, from door to door and wishing people a happy bayram. As a reward, they receive candies, chocolates, or even a small amount of money. It makes the streets even busier with cheerful gangs of kids running around, counting their revenues.
How Does the Sugar Feast Affect Tourists?
The first day of the Sugar Feast museums, archaeological sites and monuments are closed, yet they are usually open on the second and third day. However, they may be busier than any regular day thanks to the special lower holiday admission fees for locals.
As for shopping, most shops and shopping malls in Istanbul are open during the holiday, just like any other day. Except for the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Beware, shopping malls tend to be busier a couple of days before bayram because of the Sugar Feast excitement and preparations.
The main feature of both Kurban Bayramı and Şeker Bayramı is the reunion of families and friends. So, locals tend to travel a lot, which makes tourists face even more traffic. Beware that public transportation like buses, city line ferries or sea buses operate on holiday timetables. To make things worse, during bayram they often operate for free, which makes them even more crowded than usual. Also note that both the Atatürk International airport and the Sabiha Gökçen airport are most likely to be even busier than usual, since many locals use the time off as an opportunity to travel for holiday purposes.
The tradition of illuminated mosques during Ramadan continues during the Sugar Feast, which completes the festival atmosphere of the city.