In spring and summer, when school is out, seeing boys dressed in all-white suits with faux fur-trimmed flowing capes and plumed hats is a common sight. We were on the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet, the U-shaped Byzantine promenade which Constantine renovated and used as a horse-racing track, watching a boy dressed as a king. His cape became his wings as he swooped with the pigeons on the square.
He was in the midst of celebrating his circumcision. That which might be discussed between expectant parents and then quietly dispatched by an infant’s pediatrician in the US is a rite of passage in Turkey.
Though the tradition is evolving, many Turkish families observe the event to some extent. Rural and religiously conservative families may continue the practice of actually performing the circumcision during the festivities, with the newly minted little man resting on a fancy bed in a corner while being distracted by gifts and sweets. The Sünnet marks the first step in a boy’s road to manhood.
Though urban or secular parents may choose to circumcise their sons at birth, some still host a traditional party when the boy is of age, generally between the ages of 4 and 12. A single son celebrates at 6 or 7, but financial economy may dictate a shared event for multiple sons, at younger and older years. Municipalities and political parties may also host circumcision parties for less affluent constituents.
The religious procedure is called the “first joy” as a step into religious life. The urban and secular , may debate carrying on the tradition, and parents may choose to circumcise so their boys conform socially. Some grown men reportedly remember their circumcisions as scary and painful.
The traditional event can include a parade astride a pony or car followed by all invited guests and passersby, gifts, dressing in ceremonial finery, a feast, and generally being the center of attention. Celebrations may continue over a few days until the boy has healed, or in the days prior to the event the costumed boy may visit, kiss hands and collect gifts.
I love the pageantry of the fashion apparel and the excuse for celebrating, but as a bystander watching a costumed boy, I can’t know whether the deed is done and he has nothing to worry about, or whether the kid is blithely racing around showing off without a clue as to what comes next. Knowing what might be coming for an unsuspecting little one makes me cringe.