One of the joys of living among Turkish people is that their inviting and hospitable nature welcomes us in to many aspects of their culture. As they allow us to take part in their lives and traditions, we gain a greater understanding of their ways, their customs, and their perspectives. And all the while, we get to enjoy opportunities to celebrate and share their experiences. This was certainly true for us during the recent sünnet celebration for Egemen, the son of our friends, Şenol and Nazire.
Sünnet is the word for circumcision, an important event in a Turkish boy’s life. In traditional Turkish culture, boys are circumcised sometime between 6 and 11 years old. The purpose of circumcision in Turkey is not so much one of hygiene, as it often is in Western cultures. Rather, circumcision here reflects a family’s deep religious faith and serves as an important rite of passage for the boy, initiating him on the path to manhood. As such, the sünnet is a great honor for the young man and his family and a cause for community celebration.
Sünnet parties are often held weeks or months after the actual circumcision has been performed and friends, neighbors, and family members gather around to help celebrate this significant step in the boy’s life. During the party, the young man is dressed in clothes fit for a sultan and paraded to a prominent place where he is honored before the crowd. Often lavish, such parties typically include lively music, feasting, and dancing. Prayers are offered on the lad’s behalf and gifts of money or gold are given to help secure the young man’s future.
Egemen’s sünnet party was held at an elegant outdoor garden club under a crescent moon and against the backdrop of Bursa’s surrounding hills. As guests arrived, they were greeted by Egemen’s parents and seated at tables in the candle-lit garden while a group of religious leaders offered prayers for Egemen and his family. After Egemen’s grand entry, which included smoke and pyrotechnics, he and his younger sister were seated on a cushioned royal chair while guests lined up to congratulate the young man by pinning a shiny gold piece or crisp banknote on his sash. While Egemen was being congratulated, guests were served a fine five-course meal by black-tied waiters. After dinner, a five-piece band played traditional tunes into the night while the ladies turned on the dance floor, the men stood around tables drinking tea, and the kids ran through the garden laughing and playing. Everyone had a good time and Egemen’s passage into manhood was celebrated by all.
For my family, a highlight of the evening was the privilege of being invited to the family’s home for the pre-party, where we enjoyed a light meal and warmed up for the party with some song and dance in the courtyard while neighbors looked on. It was an honor for us to be welcomed into the celebration.
So, to our dear friends, Şenol and Nazire, congratulations on your son’s coming of age, and thank you for throwing such a lovely party. And to the young Egemen, welcome to the road to manhood. Growing into a man will not be an easy task, but with the loving guidance of your family and wisdom from above, we believe you’ll become a fine gentleman.