Turkey has very rich folkloric traditions which have been kept alive for centuries due to the characteristics of Turkish people. Folk music accompanies Anatolian people every single moment of their lives. Every individual creates his own folk music suitable for his own situation. People create their own music, and do not write it down, but pass it from one to the other, and the “asiklar” (troubadours) who sing and play this music keep it alive. Turkish folk dance is also very alive and variant. Each region has its characteristic dance with particular costumes, steps, rhythms and instruments. Every region’s dance reflects the characteristics of that region’s people. Turkish people are very inventive, creating new dances for different situations. There are particular dances for weddings, for harvest or for guest welcoming and so on, “Horon,” a very fluid and swift dance, is particular to the Black Sea Region; “Kasik Oyunu,” played with spoons, is performed in from Konya to Silifke; “Kilic-Kalkan” is practiced in Bursa in memory of the capture of the city by the Ottomans; “Zeybek,” particular to the Aegean Region, symbolizes courage and heroism.
There are also some folkloric sports which are also occasions for celebration. They are very typical and traditional, and it is recommended that you try to witness some of these; you will find it really interesting. “Grease Wrestling” (yagli gures) is the Turkish national sport dating from Ottoman times and every year in July wrestling championships are held in Kirkpinar, outside Edirne. The contest is made more difficult by the fact that the wrestlers smear themselves with oil. The army was kept in good physical condition by this sport. “Cirit” (javelin-throwing) is a fast-paced game played on horseback. The origin of this sport is in Central Asia, where it was developed by the soldiers in order to improve their fighting skills. Riders on fast horses throw short javelins to teammates who are also on horseback. The most important rule is to catch the javelin while flying. This game is mostly performed in Konya and Eastern Turkey.
Turkish folklore is very much varied, there are some celebrated characters who reflect the peculiarities of Turkish people. Nasreddin Hoca is the best-known figure who has many legendary encounters with kings and common people. While seeming to act the fool, Nasreddin Hoca actually displays the folly of the other. Stories about Hoca have varied with the years and with the interpretation of the storytellers. They mostly begin, “One day Hoca…” and go on with his adventures.
Other important figures in Turkish folklore are Karagoz and his friend Hacivat. According to the legend, they were working as workmen in the construction of Bursa Ulu Mosque. Their satiric jokes made the sultan very angry and anxious about whether Karagoz and Hacivat could arouse some thoughts about the abuses of the, state in the minds of ,others, so they were condemned to death. The construction of the mosque was completed without them, but their comrades did not forget them and they kept their jokes alive, telling them over, and over. In time. the adventures of Karagoz and Hacivat gained a different extension and the traditional Turkish shadow puppet theater was born. Shadow puppets cut from camel hide, painted to look like Karagoz and Hacivat are held against a wide white cloth and operated as a strong light shines from behind. Karagoz and Hacivat come to life again and reached, today, also with the addition of some new characters. The stories include everything about human existence, from moral plays to the classic encounters between husband and wife. Unfortunately, the shadow theaters are not seen today except in a few places and on some special occasions. In Bursa, the Karagoz Antique Shop sometimes organizes shadow puppet theater plays and often has modern duplications of Karagoz and Hacivat, for sale.
Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of the Turkish way of life. Turkish people are the most gracious and generous hosts as a result of their natural instincts. In every corner of the country such a traditional hospitality will meet you. Every individual feels bound to honour his guest in the best possible manner. They will open their houses to every guest with a smiling face and with all their sincerity give the best seat and cook the best food for their guest. Turkish. people are very understanding about foreigners’ different customs and they try to communicate in order to help visitors according to their code of hospitality. The mentality of that hospitality is “whatever religion you are from, whichever country you come from, whatever language you speak, you are ‘God’s Guest’ ,” so you deserve to be welcomed in the best manner.
Coffee-houses (“kahve”) are very specific to Turkish people. Even the smallest village has at least one “kahve.” In old times men used to smoke hubble-bubble pipes (“nargile”) while talking about the matters of the day. You can still smoke “nargile,” but only in some of the coffee-houses. If you ever had a chance to see a “kahve,” especially in Istanbul, do not hesitate to spend some time in that lovely, authentic place.
Another feature symbolizing the Turkish way of life is the Turkish Baths (“Hamam”). They have a very important place in Turkish daily and historical life as a result of the emphasis placed upon cleanliness by Islam. Since Medieval times public bath houses have been built everywhere and they retain an architectural and historical importance. The Turkish way of bathing in a “hamam” is very healthy and refreshing, so do not forget to visit a “hamam;” you will not regret it!