On the 6th of May the Christians in the Balkans celebrate the day of Saint George/Djurdjevdan and the Muslim communities celebrate Hederlez. Hederlez, Hıdırellez, or Hıdrellez is one of the holidays where the end of winter is celebrated in Anatolia and the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Among the Muslims in Bulgaria, St. George’s Day is celebrated under the name Hederlez. According to an Islamic legend, the righteous Khazer is revered as a supernatural guardian of evil spirits – jinns, snake bites, fires, and thefts. Due to its name, which means “green” or “greening”, it is considered the personification of life, plants, and nurturing rains – its appearance causes the earth to warm and fields and forests to bloom and turn green.

The Bulgarian Muslims from the Rhodope mountains consider Hederlez to be the third most important holiday after the two main Muslim holidays – Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. According to the Alevis in Northeastern Bulgaria, on Hederlez the two brothers – the righteous Hazer meets the righteous Ilias. They travel the world all year round – one in the east, the other in the west, meet at a rich table only on this day of the year to talk about their deeds and how they have helped people. The new year begins with their meeting, so Hederlez is considered “sene başa” – the beginning of the year. On this day, traditional rites are performed, such as lighting a campfire and many other festive customs with the wishes that the year will be fruitful, people will be healthy, and live in peace and happiness.

In many ways, the rites on Hederlez do not differ from those of the Christians on St. George’s Day. On this holiday, Muslims also venerate healing springs – for example, the great ritual bathing of the sick and suffering from physical disabilities in the spring of Dambala (Momchilgrad region) at midnight of Hederlez is known, believing that at this time the water becomes especially healing because Hazer flies over it. At dawn, children and young people roll in the dewy grass for health.

Early in the morning, the farmers go to the fields and roll in its dew “so that the disease remains” there. Then they pluck a few stalks from the sprouted wheat and take it home for health. With the water in which these stalks were dipped, in some Turkish villages women and girls wash their hair for health.

Before sunrise, a rope swing (sandzak) is tied to a large fruit tree (walnut, mulberry, cherry, apple) in the yard, and all members of the family swing on it. The Turks in the Kardzhali and Asenovgrad regions wrap themselves around the waist with green branches so that their waists do not hurt while working in the fields in the summer. Everywhere homes and farm buildings are decorated with greenery and flowers “for the health of people and animals because on this day green has great power.” In the Alevi villages in Northeastern Bulgaria, the doors and windows of the home are decorated with nettles. People also wear it for three days against headaches.

Unlike the Christian tradition, for Muslims, kneeling as a sacrifice for Hederlez is not a common custom, although it exists. In some villages, it is obligatory to such an extent that families who do not raise sheep, buy a lamb for sacrifice. Bulgarian Muslims in the Rhodopes believe that the animal slaughtered on Hederlez is “for the health and prosperity of the goods”, ie. for the animals raised by the family – sheep, cows, goats. From the blood of the sacrifice, they put dots on the children’s foreheads “for health”.

In some villages, this sacrifice is eaten at home, inviting relatives and friends, and unlike Eid al-Adha, meat is not distributed outside the home. There is also the custom of going “green” near the village where people gather to “spin lambs on a skewer” – ie. to bake barbecue.

As on the traditional Bulgarian St. George’s Day, the Alevi youths swing the girls on swings. Eating painted eggs is reminiscent of the popular celebration of Christian Easter. The most remarkable part of the holiday is the facial expressions of masked women. Two women are disguised as horsemen (beshikli), a group of women is disguised as warriors, and another group has blackened faces. Military games are played out. All the women in the village play a special ritual dance. It is interesting that the ritual clothing of women in the recent past did not differ from the Bulgarian folklore costume.

The researcher of the Alevi communities in Bulgaria Muharem Aliosman, in his article on the holiday, says that even though today we (in Bulgaria) are divided into Bulgarians, Turks, Roma, Armenians, etc. and we belong to different kinds of religions, in the past we used to be one – one community, we’ve had one faith – the worship of nature.

Hıdırellez is regarded as one of the most important seasonal bayrams (holidays) in both Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Hıdırellez is celebrated as the day on which the prophets Hızır (Al-Khidr) and İlyas (Elijah) met on Earth. it is believed that the word “Hıdrellez” has derived from the words “Hıdır” and “İlyas” and that they are holy persons who meet on earth every year on May 6, protect the soil and water, and help people. In Turkey, Hıdrellez Day is celebrated on the night that connects 5 May to 6 May and is also called Ruz-ı Hızır (Hizir day). The period from 6 May to 7 November constitutes the summer season as Khidr Days, and the period from 8 November to 5 May constitutes the winter season as November Days. Therefore, on the evening of May 5 the winter season ends and the hot summer days begin. Roma celebrate 5-6 May as Kakava Feast and Kakava Festivals are held in provinces such as Edirne.

It is a generally accepted opinion that Hızır (Hudder, Khidr) is a nickname, not a name. However, various ideas have been put forward about his name and lineage in various sources. Some claimed that the prophet Khidr and Ilyas were the same person. St. George is the figure corresponding to Hızır in Christianity. Besides being associated with St. George, Hızır is also identified with İlyas Horasani, St. Theodore, and St. Sergios. St. George believed by Muslims to be identical with Hızır, is also believed to be similar to some Muslim saints; St. George is identified with Torbalı Sultan and Cafer Baba in Thessaly, Karaca Ahmet Sultan in Skopje, which is mounting evidence of how St. George and Hızır have influenced St. George’s Day and Hıdrellez Day ceremonies.

Druze venerate Elijah and he is considered a central figure in Druzism. The Druze regard the Cave of Elijah as holy, and they identify Elijah as “El-Khidr”, the green prophet who symbolizes water and life, a miracle maker who cures the sick.

Hederlez is also celebrated by the Alevi and Muslim communities in Albania, Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, Romania, Moldova, and others. This holiday is also known as Hıdırellez, Hızır-İlyas, Ederlezi, Kakava, Haftamal, Eğrilce, Eğrice. Some believe that Hıdırellez belongs to Mesopotamian and Anatolian cultures; while others believe that it belongs to the pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkish culture and beliefs. Still, it is impossible to attribute Hıdırellez to a single culture. Since the early ages in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Iran, the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, and all Eastern Mediterranean countries, certain joyful celebrations have been held with the arrival of spring or summer.

This article was originally published in Balkans in-site on June 15, 2022.


  1. ILyubomir Mikov, Alliani Carnival Games: Based on materials from Northeastern Bulgaria
  2. https://www.google.com/amp/s/tvsatcom.bg/novini/asenovgrad/myusyulmanite-dnes-praznuvat-hadarlez-romite-ederlezi/%3Famp
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  4. https://www.trt.net.tr/bulgarian/proghrami/2020/05/05/liubopitni-fakti-19-20-1409657
  5. https://bnr.bg/kardzhali/post/101115037/musulmanite-otbelazvat-hadarlez
  6. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-61322711.amp
  7. www.kulturvarliklari.gov.tr/sempozyum_pdf/turk_etnografya/01.turk.etnografya.pdf