Quirky Turkey – Trials, Tribulations and Traditions

Quirky Turkey – Trials, Tribulations and Traditions 

Pregnancy, Birth and new-born babies – Circumcision and Weddings

It seems during pregnancy an expectant mother used to be advised that what she does affects the foetus, therefore she should not not look at monkeys, bears or camels. 


Not to eat rabbits, fish, trotters or sheeps heads and absolutely not to chew gum!

Not to eat in secret.     

 Not to attend funerals or to look at the deceased, 

But, they are encouraged to;

- Look at the moon, 

- Gaze at beautiful people, 

- Smell, or sniff roses, 

- Eat quinces, apples, green plums and grapes.


During the birthing process  to assist during labour in some areas, they would;

Loosen the mother’s hair,

Open locked doors, windows and chests.

Feed the birds (even if tuppence a bag)

Put the birthing mother on someone’s back and shake her.

Fire guns in the air




 After birth

The umbilical cord may be disposed of in varying places as it was believed to influence the baby’s future, life and employment.

buried in the courtyard of a mosque. (For the child to be a devout person) 

thrown over a wall or into a school garden. (For the child to be an educated person) 


- buried in a stable. (For the child to be an animal lover) 

- thrown into water. (For the child to search for his/her destiny elsewhere)


But, sometimes to ward off the evil eye, keep baby safe and keep the ‘mother-snatcher’ or ‘baby snatcher’ away (a not very nice person who would do harm to the new mum or baby and is supposed to live in haylofts, mills, water sources to include wells and near mothers with new babies)  they would;

Hang brooms, Koran, onion, garlic, and blue beads believed to protect against the evil eye in the room where the woman and new-born baby lie.

 Place a needle or packing needle under the pillow of the woman or new-born baby, 
To put sharp tools such as daggers, sickles, knives etc. under the pillow, 

Leaving breadcrumbs and water in the room. 

The grandmothers will often stay with the mother and family for 40 days after the birth of a child, the more sensible reasons for this are in order for the new mum to be able to concentrate on the new baby, get some rest in-between feeds and have a slow back to normality.   But, it also used to be to prevent the ‘falling forties’ when the new mum or baby could suffer from ill health and bad luck.  To prevent this happening the mother and baby were not allowed out for the 40 day period and are not encouraged to mix with other mothers and their children who have not been through the 40 day process.

Also, washing the mother and child within 40 days of birth to prevent them falling ill outside that period is known as “making the forties”. It is commonly referred to as “kırklama”, or “kırk dökme” and “kırk çıkarma” and usually done on the 40th day, but, in some areas . 

The practice is commonly carried out on the 40th day after birth although there are regional variations.  Nowadays it is a more ceremonial thing and there are special clothes for the baby and no doubt mum, camera is at the ready, gifts galore and a feeling of celebration.

New borns are often gifted gold coins or religious symbols, a nazar boncuk or two (the usually blue eye talisman to ward of the evil eye/bad thoughts/hexes) as well as clothes and teddy bears.


Teeth Wheat- A celebration for when a baby’s first tooth comes through.  The mum may sprinkle rice on the baby’s head to imitate wheat, objects may be placed around the room and the one that the child picks will predict the child’s future career, i.e. a ruler would mean engineer.  Walking, in the past if they were slow to start to walk or clumsy walkers, the parents/family would spread egg on the child’s heels or wash the child in water which has had walnut and salt added to it and if really worried, taking the child to a place of pilgrimage.

In Turkey, newborn babies may be covered in a yellow cloth as it is thought to prevent jaundice      There is a belief that the baby will get too cold, even if the weather is very hot or the baby is in a warm room, being cold will make the little one ill.  So babies are often very wrapped up  

Many new parents will say no to some if not all the following.

Indeed, when my eldest grand-daughter was a new born, her other nanny really wanted to squirt lemon juice into her eyes, it seems she believed this would help her sight. Thankfully, at the look of our horrified expressions, she gave up very easily with a hey ho.   But to not be mean she was allowed to place flour on her head which was to make her sweet, salt on her feet to stop them being smelly and an egg on her belly (whole) for some reason or other.


Another grandchild was covered in a mix of cinnamon and honey again we are not actually sure why.      A salt water bath may be given to toughen up the baby’s skin in some areas, they like to rub a salt and water paste into a baby’s skin to make the child smell sweet, strengthen muscles and bones and keep bad things from happening, although, nowadays this one is used a lot less often. 

Overwrapping, babies are often swaddled and although in the Winter this is not such a problem, we often see highly wrapped up babies, with a cover over their face, in their baby carrier, which in the temperatures of the Summer are downright dangerous.  





Boys here as a general rule are circumcised, a religious and cultural requirement.  Many parents nowadays choose to have this done in hospital and when the boy is very young, as of course they do not fear it in advance and it seems to bother them less afterwards.  Traditionally there is no set age as such, usually pre-school and as with the cord, the foreskin may be buried for similar reasons.   Having a Sunnet is a very big thing in a boy’s life and of course the parents prepare for this in advance generally giving notice either by written invitation or by sending messengers.   They buy a special outfit for the child, with headgear which is usually blue and has the word Masallah upon it.  In villages, the children who will be circumcised wear new outfits; a “çevre” (piece of cloth) and “yağlık” (a large napkin) are hung around their necks and shoulders, and bridal tinsel is hung from the back of their headgear. A few days before the circumsicion they may be paraded through their village/locale on a donkey/horseback or by car.   On the day, they may be paraded to where the circumcision is to take place, (sometimes this is on a stage!) they will be sat on the lap of their designated Godfather/relative who will be ready to restrain the child if needed whilst the procedure is being carried out.  The Sunnetci (nowadays usually a trained professional) will then remove the foreskin whilst people say ‘Allah Ekber’ a couple of times and a popular couplet may be quoted, “oldu da bitti maşallah, iyi olur inşallah” (It has happened at once, May God preserve him; it will grow better, by God’s will). (courtesy of the Turkish Cultural Organisation.)    Gifts are given to the boy, often gold, cash and nowadays I am sure, electronic items!



And now Courtship, Engagement and Weddings

If a boy meets a girl and he wishes to proceed to dating, in some areas  this would be a family affair, with the whole family accompanying the young couple on their dates and them having no privacy whatsoever.   Before you would get to this stage, the boy’s father and the girl’s father will have spoken and agreed to the courtship.  If the courtship proceeds well, then they would agree on the match and proceed to an engagement.  They may still go on to the next stage or direct to an engagement party. 

Get a gelin night  or Görücülük.   It is traditional for the boy’s family to visit the girl’s family when they chat, drink tea and have a nibble or three before the gelin(bride)  to be makes and serves Turkish coffee to all the guests.  The two father’s or most senior male relatives, discuss goodness knows what (dowry’s and such like) and the deal is done.   (In some areas the drinking of sherbet would signify the agreement of both parties to the engagement.


A silver tray may be  brought in with the engagement rings on and these have a ribbon joining them.   One ring is put on the future bride’s finger and one on the groom’s.   The ribbon is then cut, and hey presto they are engaged, or at least this is how it is done in my family nice and simple, unless they have an engagement party, in which case this step is done then.  

On to the engagement party.   This is usually arranged and paid for by the bride’s family.  Usually taking place in her home.  She will have a very fabulous dress and receive gifts of money, gold and other presents.  The groom too will receive gifts.   Generally there will be food and entertainment, be it as simple as a couple of chaps belting out wedding music or a full scale hoo ha, with professional singers/dancers etc.


The night before the wedding the girl will often have her Henna night.

Done traditionally, a flag would be placed on the roof of the groom’s home (touch wood not the 50th floor of a high-rise) during the daytime.  Bread may be handed out by the bearer of the flag which is referred to then as flag bread and marks the official start of the wedding.  The bride’s trousseau is brought to the man’s home (or their new home) and the bridal chamber is prepared.  A group of women from the groom’s family would go to the brides house, taking the henna, food and her outfit for the evening.   During the evening they will eat and be merry until it is time to try and make the bride cry by singing sad songs, after which they will apply the henna to her hands often having placed gold coins on them first and if she wishes they will apply it to her feet. Often the ladies in attendance will also use the henna on their own hands.    

The day after the Henna night is the main event and guests would be offered food to the accompaniment of drums and reeds, while the bride and groom get ready in their own homes. The groom would have his wedding shave, and when ready he would go to the bride’s house along with his family, to collect his bride who would have a red belt tied around her dress to signify perseverance, by her father/brothers.  She says goodbye to her parents and is taken away to the accompaniment of prayers or music or even both. A mirror may be held behind her to express the wish for a bright life, and in the doorway of her new home, there may be laid out butter, honey and similar things to signify the wish for her of sweet harmony in her new home.    



Also, people will throw sweets, coins and dried fruits over the bride’s head in a hope for abundance.


Nowadays, they would go to the local town hall/registry office and get married here or to their chosen venue and the registrar will come to then to carry out the legal wedding service.

After this, they may choose to have a religious wedding service as well.

Turkish weddings vary as to the area the couple come from or live and as to how modern or not, their families are.   They are often held outside if the weather is ok, in an open air wedding salon or in the street outside their home, on a beach or in a restaurant, there will be music and soft drinks, sometimes food sometimes just salty and sweet biscuits, some weddings are big affairs in hotels or wedding suites, with a band or dj, seated meals and all types of drinks. 


Common to all weddings though, is the tradition of gift giving, usually gold or money, which is pinned on the the bride and groom who will be wearing a sash for this purpose, gold bangles and chains are also popular gifts for the bride.  This gold is usually put away and belongs to the bride, she will save it for emergencies or ideally, to pass on, in time to her own children.   


The wedding night.

A few traditions to help the young couple have a harmonious night are to thrust a knife into the door of the bridal chamber, people are asked not to cross their arms or legs, in some places a single spoon, a single fork and a single glass are put on the tray to make the newlyweds share them. It is believed that they will get used to each other much quicker that way.



And on to hopefully, a very long and happy marriage.


Some of the content of this page has been achieved by use of the turkish cultural ministry page which gives details of old traditions (most of which are no longer carried out.)  ((thankfully))

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