Visiting Turkey during Kurban Bayramı (sacrifice holiday) may be an intense experience for Westerners traveling to Muslim country for the first time. Known as Eid el-Adha or Eid el-Kebir in Arabic, this four- or five-day observance, which is the most revered Islamic religious festival of the year, commemorates Abraham’s will to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah in order to prove his total submission to God. (In the story, God stops Abraham just in time, and instead gives him a ram to sacrifice). The date of the festival is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, so it changes yearly. In the next few years it happens in September and early October.
On the morning of the first day of the festival, most Turkish households sacrifice a sheep. A feast is then prepared for the entire family, and a portion is donated to a family in need. If guests happen to be around, be forewarned that they too will take part in the spectrum of “festivities,” which may require a strong stomach.
Traveling during the festival is difficult. Since Kurban Bayramı coincides with the hajj—the annual pilgrimage to Mecca—domestic travel and travel to and from Turkey is exceptionally busy. During this time, tickets involving layovers in Europe or the Middle East should be confirmed well in advance, as most flights serving those regions are generally overbooked. The same goes for domestic and international coaches and boats.
If you are visiting during this time, try to travel a couple of days before the holiday’s official first and last days. Confirm the rooms, dates, and the number of guests after booking your hotels. Banks are closed during the festival, so make sure that either your ATM card is working or that a sufficient amount of cash is on hand. Museums and public sites may be closed on the first day of the holiday. Businesses and government offices are closed for the duration of the holiday; some villages in remote Turkey may even be away en masse.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.