Bocuk Night was an event that had sunk into oblivion. Until the 2000s… Especially in the 2010s, it resurfaced with the support of local governments. Bocuk Night, one of the intangible cultural heritages of Thrace, turned into a festival in a short time with the support of the local people. Today, there are people who come to the Bocuk Night events from the Balkan countries. This also contributes to the development of tourism in Thrace. So what is Bocuk Night? When and how is it celebrated?
What is Bocuk Night?
Bocuk Night is a Balkan tradition dating back to ancient times. Today, it is celebrated in some villages in Edirne and Tekirdağ provinces of Turkey. Its origin is uncertain. However, folklorists think that Bocuk Night traditions date back to the Middle Ages. Tihomir Đorđević reported that Turks living in the Balkans in the 1800s celebrated Bocuk Night. Serbian professor Tihomir Đorđević is one of the earliest folklorists and ethnologists to talk about the Bocuk Night traditions of the Turks in the Balkans. Đorđević, who died in 1944, noted that the Turks met that night and ate pumpkin.1
When is Bocuk Night?
There are different opinions about which day is the Bocuk Night. However, it is usually in the two-week period after January 6th. The common view is that it should be celebrated during the coldest time of the year. Therefore, we can consider Bocuk Night as one of the Balkan winter festivals.
What are the Bocuk Night Traditions?
Since the end of the 19th century, the Balkan Turks carried the Bocuk Night traditions to Thrace. These traditions form the basis of today’s celebrations.
The most important symbol of Bocuk Night is Bocuk. She is often described as a witch in white. Bocuk is rarely depicted as a male. An important part of the traditions are for protection from the harms of Bocuk.
Some of these traditions are similar to those of Halloween. It is the most common tradition for people to dress up as Bocuk by painting their faces and scaring each other. This tradition has been influenced by different concepts over time. The most common tradition for children is to hear scary tales from adults.
Cooking pumpkin is one of the important 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
In The Past
Bocuk Night used to be a night when people were pretty scared. 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. Adults, on the other hand, would often sit and chat near the stove until late. The cold did not bother them. Because for them, cold weather meant a fruitful year. 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
Similar Important Days
There are other important days in Turkey similar to Bocuk Night, such as Kolada Night and Coraz Nights.
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 festivities 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, we can say that Kolada Night celebrated in Kırklareli is related to Slavic folklore. However, it should be noted that there are differences between the traditions of the Turks and the traditions of the Slavs. The most important tradition of the Turks at Kolada Night was to cook pumpkins.
Cooking a pumpkin is one of the main practices of the Turks to protect themselves from evil beings. Turks cook pumpkins both in Bocuk Night, Kolada Night and Coraz Nights.
When it comes to Kolada Night, the most well-known evil being is Karakoncolos. Karakoncolos is an evil creature found in both Anatolian, Greek and Balkan folklore. Many people living in these lands believe that Karakoncolos appears on the coldest days of winter. With that in mind, cooking pumpkins on Kolada Night may have been practiced as a way to ward off Karakoncolos.
You may also like: Eleven Scariest Creatures In Turkish And Altaic Myths
It is also rumored that the pumpkin was cooked because it suppressed the smell of pork cooked by Christians.
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.5
Similar Winter Carnivals in the Balkans
With the arrival of winter, similar carnivals are organized in many countries in the Balkans. You can see them on the map above.
You may also like: Halloween-Like Traditions And The Origin Of Halloween
The purpose of most people at winter carnivals is to drive away the evil spirits associated with the winter season and celebrate the approaching spring.
- Tihomir ĐORĐEVIĆ, Naš Narodni Život, Volume 2
- Prof. Dr. Erman ARTUN, Tekirdağ Âdetlerinden Bocuk Gecesi Ve Sedenka, Türk Kültürü Araştırmaları: Prof. Dr. Şükrü Elçin’e Armağan, 1993
- Özlem GÜZEL & Hande AKYURT KURNAZ, Türk Kültüründe Bir Miras Olarak Bocuk Gecesi Ritüeli İçeriği: Fenomenolojik Bir Araştırma, 2020
- Борис Александрович РЫБАКОВ, Язычество древней Руси, 2001, ISBN: 9785344000923
- Mestan YAPICI, Türk Kültüründe Kabak Ve Kabak Yemekleri, Dönence Yayınları, ISBN: 9789757054191