The Allure of Turkish Customs: A Blend of History and Humor

The Enchanting World of Turkish Traditions: A Journey Through Culture and Humor


Turkey, a land straddling two continents, has long been a crucible of civilisations, each leaving a mark on the nation’s cultural fabric. The importance of traditions in this country cannot be overstated—they are the threads that weave the vibrant tapestry of Turkish society. As someone enamoured by Turkish customs, I am thrilled to share an exploration of Turkish traditions that are as intriguing as they are amusing.

From the aromatic allure of Turkish coffee to the festive fires of Hıdrellez, Turkey’s customs offer a captivating glimpse into a culture that celebrates life with warmth and an unmistakable zest. These traditions, steeped in history and coloured by myths, reflect the Turkish people’s values and collective humour—a testament to their love for storytelling, social cohesion, and a good laugh.

This blog post will delve into some of the most interesting and funny Turkish traditions that make this country a treasure trove of cultural wonders. So, prepare to be whisked away on a journey that will enlighten and entertain as we explore the unique customs that make Turkey so undeniably enchanting.

The Historical Context of Turkish Traditions

The cultural practices of Turkey are as diverse as the many empires that have ruled its lands. From the ancient Hittites to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and finally, the Ottomans, each has contributed uniquely to the Turkish traditions of today.

The Melting Pot of Civilizations in Anatolia

Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, has been a melting pot of civilisations, cultures, and religions. The rich archaeological legacy of this region includes UNESCO World Heritage sites like Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, which stand as a testament to the area’s historical significance. These sites attract millions of tourists each year but also serve as a reminder of the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Turkish customs.

Visit Turkey’s official tourism website for more information on visiting Cappadocia



The Ottoman Empire’s Legacy

The Ottoman Empire’s influence on Turkish traditions is undeniable. It was a time of grandeur and luxury, where the mingling of Eastern and Western influences gave birth to unique practices. The Ottoman Empire left its mark on everything from cuisine, with delights like Baklava and Turkish Delight, to the splendid military send-off ceremonies known as asker uğurlama. The empire’s influence extended to the language, architecture, clothing, and social norms, which are still evident in modern-day Turkey.

Explore the history of the Ottoman Empire on Britannica

The Republic of Turkey’s Modern Influence

Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey was established, further influencing the nation’s traditions. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey underwent significant reforms that aimed to modernise and secularise the country. These changes brought about new customs, such as adopting the Swiss Civil Code, affecting family law, gender roles, and other societal norms.

The historical context of Turkish traditions is vital to understanding the depth and breadth of the customs still practised today. They are a blend of the ancient and the modern, the East and the West, creating a cultural landscape that is rich, colourful, and continuously evolving.

Reading Coffee Cups as Fortunes

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The ritual of drinking Turkish coffee is an integral part of the country’s fabric, transcending beyond a mere morning pick-me-up to an activity laced with mysticism and fun. This thick, frothy beverage, often served in tulip-shaped glasses, paves the way for a unique form of fortunetelling that has become a beloved pastime in Turkey.

  • Popularity of Turkish Coffee: Turkish coffee is not merely a drink but a cultural phenomenon. Its preparation is an art form, and its consumption is a social event. The coffee is brewed in a special pot called a cezve, typically with sugar and sometimes with spices, and served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate.
  • Fortunetelling from Coffee Grounds: After sipping the coffee, the cup is turned over onto the saucer, and the coffee grounds are left to cool. Once they have settled, a fortune-teller will interpret the patterns to predict the drinker’s future. This practice, known as tasseography, is often done among friends and family as a lighthearted and entertaining way to conclude a coffee gathering.
  • Fun Activity Enjoyed by Families and Friends: Reading coffee cups is a communal activity that often leads to laughter and playful debates. Whether or not one believes in the fortunes told, the practice is a cherished part of Turkish social life, bringing people together through shared stories and predictions.

The art of coffee cup reading is as complex as the motifs that may appear within the grounds. It’s a tradition that exemplifies the Turkish love for storytelling and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures.

Read about the cultural significance of Turkish coffee in the Smithsonian Magazine

Celebration of Hıdrellez

Hıdrellez, celebrated on May 6th, is one of the most joyous Turkish festivals, marking the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature. This festival combines ancient traditions with folk beliefs and is a vibrant display of Turkey’s cultural heritage.

  • Spring Festival: Hıdrellez is believed to be the day when Prophets Hızır (Al-Khidr) and İlyas (Elijah) meet on earth, heralding the onset of spring and the season of new life and hope.
  • Drawing Wishes on Paper and Burying Them: One of the most enchanting practices of Hıdrellez involves writing down wishes on paper and burying them under a rose tree, signifying the planting of one’s hopes for the future.
  • Jumping Over Bonfires: As part of the festivities, people jump over bonfires, a practice to purify and bring luck. The flames symbolise transformation, burning away the remnants of a long winter.
  • Importance of Hope and Wishing: The spirit of Hıdrellez is encapsulated in the collective yearning for good fortune and prosperity. It’s a day when communities come together to celebrate, feast, and look forward to the bounties of the warmer months ahead.

This tradition is a testament to the importance of hope in Turkish culture and the nation’s enduring connection to nature and the cycles of the earth.

Spilling Water After a Passenger Leaves

One of the most heartwarming and whimsical Turkish traditions involves bidding farewell to travellers. As someone leaves for a journey, it’s customary for a family member or a friend to pour water behind them. This practice is more than a quirky ritual; it’s a symbolic wish for a smooth journey.

  • Traditional Good Luck Wish for Travelers: The act of spilling water is meant to ensure that the traveller’s path flows as effortlessly as the water poured. It’s a physical manifestation of the saying, “Go safely, and come back like water.”
  • Performed by Older Generations: This tradition is particularly cherished among the older generations, who hold fast to such customs to maintain a connection with the past and impart good fortune to loved ones.
  • Author’s Personal Memory of the Tradition: Many of us in Turkish households vividly remember our parents or grandparents partaking in this endearing custom. It’s a tradition that evokes nostalgia and a sense of family continuity.

The simple act of pouring water is a beautiful example of how Turkish traditions seamlessly blend the every day with the symbolic, infusing ordinary actions with deeper meaning and affection.

Writing Names Under the Wedding Shoes of the Bride

Turkish weddings are a riot of colour and joy, often including a dose of good-humoured superstition. Among these is the custom of writing the names of single friends on the soles of the bride’s shoes.

  • Humorous Tradition at Turkish Weddings: Before the wedding ceremony, the bride’s single friends write their names on the bottom of her shoes. It’s a lighthearted game that adds extra fun to the nuptial festivities.
  • Names Rubbed Out During Dancing Indicate Who Will Get Married Soon: As the bride dances throughout the night, it is believed that the names that have been rubbed off by the end of the wedding will be the next to tie the knot.
  • Importance of Participating in the Tradition: For single friends, it’s not just about the possibility of getting married next. It’s about being part of the bride’s journey, and the collective hope for happiness and love the wedding represents.

This charming custom provides an amusing insight into the social dynamics of Turkish wedding traditions and the communal spirit that underlies them.

Wearing Evil Eyes (Nazar Boncuğu)

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The evil eye, or “Nazar,” is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in Turkey, seen dangling from rearview mirrors, embedded in jewellery, or adorning homes. Despite its sinister name in English, the Nazar boncuğu is a talisman meant to ward off bad luck.

  • Misleading Translation of “Evil Eye”: In Turkish culture, the “evil eye” is not an omen of ill intent but rather a protective charm against it. The word “nazar” refers to an evil glare believed to cause harm, and the nazar boncuğu is the amulet that guards against this negative energy.
  • Nazar Boncuğu Beads Combat Negativity: Typically made of blue glass with concentric circles or teardrop shapes, these beads are said to reflect the evil intent back to the onlooker.
  • Worn as Accessories or Displayed in Homes: The nazar boncuğu is so ingrained in Turkish culture that it has become a fashionable accessory imbued with meaning. It is not uncommon to see these blue glass eyes integrated into various aspects of daily life, serving as a decorative element and a cultural emblem.
  • Cultural Significance and Personal Connection: The nazar boncuğu represents a shared cultural understanding of the power of positive and negative energies. It’s a tradition transcends religious and secular boundaries, embodying a universal desire for protection and well-being.

The evil eye bead is a testament to the cultural blend present in Turkey, a small yet powerful symbol of a nation’s collective consciousness and the enduring power of its traditions.

Making a Wish Through Wish Trees

In the serene corners of Turkey, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, one can stumble upon a mystical tradition that’s as colourful as it is—with trees. These trees, adorned with strips of cloth, are silent witnesses to the hopes and dreams of countless individuals.

  • Tying Colorful Fabrics to Trees to Make Wishes: It is common to see trees adorned with ribbons, scraps of cloth, or even pieces of paper tied around their branches. Each piece represents a wish or prayer made by someone seeking a blessing or hoping for a dream to come true.
  • Less Common but Still Cherished Tradition: While the practice might be less well-known than other Turkish customs, it carries a deep significance for those who partake. It’s a tradition that harmoniously blends nature worship with personal spirituality.
  • Connection to Hope and Achieving Dreams: Tying a piece of oneself to a tree symbolises a bond with nature and the universe. It is a physical act of sending one’s deepest desires into the world, entrusting them to the care of something larger and more enduring.

Wish trees are a poignant example of Turkish traditions that celebrate the beauty of hope and the human desire to connect with the divine in everyday life.

Having Nature-Based Names

Turkish culture has a profound affinity with nature, and this connection is beautifully reflected in the tradition of nature-based names. These names are not just identifiers but carry with them stories, characteristics, and legacies.

  • Abundance of Nature-Inspired Names in Turkish Culture: Many Turkish names have their roots in natural elements, reflecting the country’s diverse landscapes and the importance of the natural world in daily life.
  • Examples of Names and Their Meanings: Names like Deniz (Sea), Derya (Ocean), Dağ (Mountain), or Güneş (Sun) speak of the grandeur and beauty of the outdoors. Each name carries a sense of identity and belonging to the world’s natural wonders.
  • Author’s Name, Ayda, Meaning “Sweet-Scented Herb”: Even my name, Ayda, meaning “sweet-scented herb,” is a testament to the Turkish love for nature. It is a tradition that deepens one’s connection to the environment and embeds a sense of appreciation for the natural world from birth.

The tradition of giving nature-based names is a charming aspect of Turkish culture, encapsulating the essence of the land and its influence on identity and personality.

Inviting a Guest to Your Home

In Turkey, the phrase “Mi casa es su casa” finds its truest expression. Hospitality is not just a practice but a cornerstone of Turkish culture, reflecting a generosity of spirit as expansive as the country’s landscapes.

  • Turkish Emphasis on Hospitality: To be invited into a Turkish home is to be treated like royalty. Guests are lavished with attention, comfort, and, most notably, an array of delectable treats.
  • Making Guests Feel Comfortable, Even if Overzealously: It is not uncommon for a host to insist on serving more food, even after a guest’s polite refusal. This persistence is not to inconvenience but to ensure the visitor feels welcome and well-cared for.
  • Offering Food Persistently and Expressing Sadness at Refusal: The act of offering and insisting is rooted in the belief that the guest brings abundance and blessing to the home. Therefore, it’s only fitting that they receive the best the household can offer.
  • Importance of Feeling Welcome and Included: The Turkish custom of hospitality is all about inclusion and creating a sense of belonging. It’s a tradition transcends mere politeness, aiming to forge lasting bonds and memories.

Hospitality in Turkey is a reflection of the country’s warm heart. It’s an ingrained tradition that upholds the value of sharing life’s pleasures and joys with others, making everyone feel like a part of the family.

Daily Life and Customs

Amidst the hustle of daily life, Turkish customs provide a rhythm and structure that reflect the nation’s values and sense of community. Every aspect of everyday life is steeped in tradition, from how food is shared to the attire one chooses.

Culinary Traditions and Dining Etiquette

Turkish cuisine is a feast for the senses, and food preparation and consumption customs are just as rich.

  • The Importance of Food in Turkish Traditions: Meals are more than just sustenance; they are communal events that unite people. The tradition of offering food as a sign of friendship and hospitality is deeply ingrained in Turkish culture.
  • Islamic Dietary Laws and Their Influence on Turkish Cuisine: Many Turkish dishes and dining customs are shaped by Islamic dietary laws. For instance, during the holy month of Ramadan, fasting from dawn until sunset is followed by the iftar, the meal that breaks the fast, often shared with family and friends.
  • Persistent Offering and Communal Eating: It’s not uncommon to see large platters of food being shared around a table, emphasising the communal nature of dining. Refusing food is often met with gentle insistence, as sharing a meal is seen as sharing life.

Traditional Clothing and Public Etiquette

The rich tapestry of Turkish history is visible not only in traditions but also in fashion.

  • How Traditional Clothing Reflects Turkish Humor: Once a symbol of Ottoman officialdom, the fez now often appears in cultural festivals and events with a touch of humour and nostalgia.
  • The Importance of Modest Dressing: Modesty in clothing is respected, especially in rural areas and when visiting religious sites. The choice of attire often balances modern trends with traditional sensibilities.

Turkish daily life and customs are a blend of the old and the new, where traditional practices are given contemporary expressions, creating a living culture that is dynamic and vibrant.

Marriage and Family

The institution of family holds a central place in Turkish society, with traditions reflecting the nation’s kinship and social structure values.

Family Structure and Child Rearing

In Turkey, the family is the heart of social life and a bastion of tradition.

  • Gender Roles Within the Family: Traditional gender roles have evolved, but they still influence family life and responsibilities in many aspects.
  • Grandparent Involvement in Children’s Upbringing: Grandparents often play an active role in raising children, passing on customs, stories, and the Turkish language to younger generations.

Divorce and Family Law

Changing social norms have also influenced family law and practices in Turkey.

  • Civil Marriage Ceremonies and Divorce Procedures: Civil marriage is the legal form of matrimony, and though divorce was once taboo, modern Turkish society has adopted more progressive views on marriage and divorce.
  • The Influence of Islamic Family Code: Islamic principles continue to inform family law, though the legal system is based on civil codes.

Family and marriage traditions in Turkey reflect the country’s complex history, where modernity and tradition coexist, and family remains a cornerstone of social identity.

Social Etiquette and Public Life

Turkish social etiquette is rich with customs that speak to the nation’s history and cultural values.

Greeting Customs and Expressions of Hospitality

From greetings to farewells, Turkish customs are designed to honour and respect.

  • The Significance of Gestures Like Throwing Water and Hand-Kissing: Such gestures symbolise the country’s warmth and respect for others.
  • Turkish Traditions in Public Spaces: Public affection norms and etiquette on public transportation reflect a culture that values community and personal space.

Turkish social etiquette is a dance of culture, where every gesture, from how one greets an elder to how one behaves in public, reflects the nation’s collective values and history.

Artistic and Architectural Heritage

Turkey’s artistic and architectural heritage is a vivid chronicle of its past, from the grandeur of the Byzantine Empire to the splendours of the Ottoman era.

Byzantine Art and Islamic Influence

The confluence of Byzantine art and Islamic tradition has given rise to a unique aesthetic evident in Turkey’s architecture, mosaics, and religious art.

  • Byzantine Art’s Lasting Impact: The remnants of Byzantine art, particularly in Istanbul, are a testament to its lasting influence. The Hagia Sophia’s magnificent dome and intricate mosaics are prime examples of this rich heritage.
  • The Cultural Blend in Islamic Art: Islamic art in Turkey is not just about religious expression; it’s a fusion of various artistic traditions that have been embraced and adapted over centuries, creating a distinctly Turkish style.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Turkey’s UNESCO sites, like the Historic Areas of Istanbul and the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, showcase the country’s artistic and architectural prowess.

Turkey’s art and architecture are not static relics of the past; they continue to inspire contemporary art and cultural expressions, bridging history with modernity.

Religious Diversity and Cultural Tolerance

In a land that has been a crossroads of religions and cultures, religious diversity and cultural tolerance are woven into the fabric of Turkish society.

The Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople

The presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), highlights the city’s historical role as a centre of Christianity and its continuing significance in religious affairs.

Religious Communities: Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and the Jewish Community

Turkey’s religious landscape is diverse, with communities of Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Jews contributing to the country’s rich tapestry of beliefs and customs.

The Balance Between Cultural Tolerance and Intolerance

While Turkey strives for cultural tolerance, it has challenges. The country’s history and politics sometimes create tensions, but the overall spirit of the nation is one of inclusion and respect for diversity.

The interweaving of different faiths and cultures in Turkey has created a society that, at its best, is a model of tolerance and mutual respect, exemplifying the potential for peaceful coexistence.


Turkish traditions are a microcosm of the nation’s soul—a blend of history, humour, art, and humanity. They are the expressions of a culture that has thrived at the crossroads of continents and civilisations.

From the most interesting and funny customs, such as the whimsical spilling of water for travellers or the protective gaze of the Nazar boncuğu, to the profound connections with nature and the divine through wish trees and nature-based names, Turkish traditions offer a window into the heart of its people.

As we appreciate the cultural diversity within Turkey and learn about its traditions, we are reminded of the universal human experiences that connect us all. There is wisdom in the old adage, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people,” and the traditions of Turkey are a testament to this enduring truth.

Let us take inspiration from Turkey’s example, encouraging ourselves to learn new languages, explore new cultures, and embrace the beautiful diversity that makes our world so vibrant.

FAQ Section

  • How do I read coffee grounds for fortunetelling? Reading coffee grounds is a skill that involves interpreting the patterns left after a cup of Turkish coffee is consumed and the grounds have settled.
  • What are the specific dates and customs of Hıdrellez? Hıdrellez is celebrated on May 6th, with customs that include writing wishes on paper, jumping over bonfires, and celebrating the arrival of spring.
  • Is it okay to refuse food when visiting a Turkish home? While it’s culturally expected to accept food when offered, polite refusals are usually understood, though they may be met with playful insistence.
  • Where can I find Wish Trees in Turkey? Wish trees can be found in various locations, often near religious sites or rural areas known for their natural beauty.
  • Are there any other interesting Turkish traditions not mentioned in the article? Turkey is rich in customs, from the celebration of newborns with the Nazar boncuğu to the festive treats shared during national holidays.

This concludes our journey through the enchanting world of Turkish traditions. May the charm and warmth of Turkey’s customs inspire you to explore further and discover the many layers of this storied culture.