An Ethnographic Research on the Bocuk Night

Bocuk Night, a tradition that was on the brink of being forgotten, experienced a resurgence in popularity during the 2010s, thanks to the support of local governments. These celebrations, which stand as significant cultural symbols of Thrace, swiftly evolved into a festival with the active involvement of local communities. The number of participants quickly grew, with around 10 thousand people attending, including those arriving from neighboring provinces and Balkan countries. But what exactly is Bocuk Night, and how is it celebrated?

What is Bocuk Night?

The Bocuk Night is an old Balkan tradition associated with the coldest night of winter. It is celebrated in Edirne and some villages in Tekirdağ today.

Crowds in ghost costumes are characteristic of Bocuk Night celebrations. These costumes, which symbolize the evil creature called Bocuk, usually consist only of a white sheet. Face painting is sometimes a complementary element of these costumes.

In today’s celebrations, faces are mostly painted white, but it is known that black soot from cauldrons was applied to the faces in the past. Now, easily available food products such as flour and starch or make-up materials are used.

History of Bocuk Night

The origin of Bocuk Night is uncertain, but folklorists think that Bocuk Night traditions can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

It is understood from the quotes of Tihomir Đorđević that the Turks living in the Balkans in the 1800s celebrated the Bocuk Night. Considering the formation process of the traditions, it can be said that Bocuk Night was known among some Turks in the Balkans even in the 1700s at the latest.

Serbian professor Tihomir Đorđević is one of the earliest folklorists and ethnologists to talk about the Bocuk celebrations of the Turks in the Balkans. Đorđević noted that the Turks met that night and ate pumpkin.1

It is a common tradition to eat pumpkin food and boiled corn on Bocuk Night.

When is Bocuk Night?

There are many different opinions about which day the Bocuk Night is celebrated, varying from region to region. However, the two-week period after January 6 is generally taken as a basis. The common view is that it should be celebrated during the coldest time of the year. Therefore, Bocuk Night can be considered as one of the Balkan winter festivals.

What are the Bocuk Night Traditions?

Bocuk Night traditions were carried to Thrace by the Balkan Turks from the end of the 19th century. These traditions, which are mostly transferred to the present day through individuals before Generation X, form the basis of today’s celebrations.

The most important symbol of Bocuk Night is the evil creature named Bocuk. This creature is often described as a witch in white. Although often described as a woman, Bocuk is also said to be a man in some villages.

Most of the Bocuk Night traditions are aimed at protection from the damage that Bocuk will cause. Some of these traditions are likened to Halloween traditions.

It is the most common tradition for people to dress up as Bocuk and scare each other by painting their faces white on Bocuk Night. This tradition, which was previously practiced only to dress as Bocuk, has been under the influence of different concepts over time. In today’s celebrations, witch and elf costumes or costumes inspired by fantastic movie characters are also used.

Cooking pumpkin is one of the popular traditions for Bocuk Night, as mentioned above. In most organizations, people offer each other kabak tatlısı, a kind of pumpkin dessert. Young people disguised as Bocuk sometimes want pumpkin dessert by knocking on the windows of the surrounding houses. There are also rumors that in the past villagers left some pumpkin dishes in the barn. The reason for this is to protect the cattle in the barn from Bocuk. Some villagers in Tekirdağ put some baklava on the roofs of their houses instead of pumpkin dessert.2

Bocuk Night used to be a night that people were afraid of. Therefore, it was the most common tradition for people to gather together. It was an indispensable practice for Bocuk Night to get people together and cook pumpkin. During these gatherings, the children were put to bed early. On the other hand, adults used to sit by the stove and chat until late. The cold was not a problem for them. Because they used to believe that the colder the weather, the more fruitful that year would be. Despite the cold weather, some of the youth would go out disguised as Bocuk and knock on the windows of the nearby houses. This prank was also a sign of courage for them.3

In Bocuk Night, the most common tradition for children was to hear frightening tales from adults.

Bocuk Night event for children in Edirne, Turkey

Similar Traditions

With the arrival of the winter season, many similar traditions are encountered both in Anatolia and Europe.

Kolada Night

In Turkey, it is known only in Kırklareli. It’s hard to say whether Kolada Night and Bocuk Night have the same origins. However, both nights are celebrated on close dates.

“Kolada” is a term among the ancient Slavs to describe the period between Christmas and the Epiphany. During this period, people come together to sing songs and disguise themselves with animal masks.4

Therefore, it can be said that Kolada Night celebrated in Kırklareli is related to Slavic folklore. However, it should be underlined that there are differences between the traditions of the Turks and the Slavic traditions. The most common custom of Turks at Kolada Night was to cook pumpkin.

Cooking a pumpkin is one of the popular customs of the Turks to protect themselves from evil creatures.

When it comes to Kolada Night, the first creature that comes to mind is Karakoncolos. Karakoncolos is an evil creature found in both Anatolian, Greek and Balkan folklore. Many people in the aforementioned regions used to believe that Karakoncolos emerged during the coldest days of winter. Therefore, cooking pumpkin on Kolada Night may be one of the methods applied to protect from the evils of Karakoncolos.

In the Kalandar Night celebrated in the Eastern Black Sea region, people used to leave a local dish, kuymak, in front of the outer gate to protect themselves from the harms of Karakoncolos.5

The Scariest Creatures in Anatolian Folklore

Coraz Nights

Coraz Nights are only known by very few people in the villages of Ödemiş and Beydağ in İzmir, Turkey. It falls on the 18th, 19th and 20th of January. Just like in Bocuk Night, an old witch wanders in the streets at night and harms people in Coraz Nights. Villagers cook pumpkins in order to protect themselves from the witch named Coraz, and they do not allow the children to go out at night. Mestan Yapıcı claimed that the same dates were known as Karakoncolos Nights in Çeşme, which is about 200 kilometers from Ödemiş and Beydağ.6

Winter festivals with similar concepts held around Anatolia and the Balkans in January and February (1: Bocuk Night, 2: Kolada Night, 3: Kukeri, 4: Coraz Nights, 5: Karakoncolos Nights, 6: Kalandar Night, 7: Busójárás, 8: Rijeka Carnival, 9: Kurentovanje, 10: Carnival of Venice)

Similar Winter Carnivals in the Balkans

With the arrival of the winter season, similar carnivals are held in many countries in thé Balkans. The Kukeri Tradition in Bulgaria, the Rijeka Carnival in Croatia, the Kurentovanje Carnival in Slovenia and the Busójárás Carnival in Hungary are among the best known.

Halloween-Like Traditions and the Origin of Halloween

The purpose of most of these carnivals is to drive away the evil spirits associated with the winter season and to celebrate the approaching spring.

  1. Tihomir ĐORĐEVIĆ, “Naš Narodni Život”, Volume 2[]
  2. Prof. Dr. Erman ARTUN, Tekirdağ Âdetlerinden Bocuk Gecesi Ve Sedenka, Türk Kültürü Araştırmaları: Prof. Dr. Şükrü Elçin’e Armağan, 1993[]
  3. Özlem GÜZEL & Hande AKYURT KURNAZ, Türk Kültüründe Bir Miras Olarak Bocuk Gecesi Ritüeli İçeriği: Fenomenolojik Bir Araştırma, 2020[]
  4. Борис Александрович РЫБАКОВ, Язычество древней Руси, 2001, ISBN: 9785344000923[]
  5. Okan ALAY, “Anadolu Ve Kafkasya Kavşağında Geleneksel Bir Yılbaşı Kutlaması: Kalandar”, Motif Akademi Halkbilimi Dergisi, Cilt: 11, Sayı: 23, 2018[]
  6. Mestan YAPICI, Türk Kültüründe Kabak Ve Kabak Yemekleri, Dönence Yayınları, ISBN: 9789757054191[]