Ceremonial and Celebratory Meals
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Kitchen Organization, Ceremonial and Celebratory Meals in the Ottoman Empire

The greatest of the circumcision celebrations was that held by Murat III in Istanbul, which lasted for fifty-five days. Rulers from around the world were invited, and those who were unable to attend sent their ambassadors. This was the largest celebration, held in the 16th century, was the largest celebration ever held in the world (28).

This circumcision celebration was held in three different sections for the morning, afternoon and evening. Beginning on May 29, 1582, it end on July 21 1582. Two meals were served every day to the people and guests with the sultan and his family, heads of state, invited guests and common people eating at separate sofras. For detailed information about this celebration, see (30).

On Sunday, June 10, a breakfast was served to the people This breakfast included boiled chicken and turkey, fried mutton, lamb, various pilafs, a type of çörek with honey, various sweets and sherbet. After the people were served, there was a series of performances and in the evening, fireworks.

On the morning of Monday, June 11, a meal was served to four thousand cavalry soldiers and their officers under great tents. The evening meal was eaten on straw mats, and consisted of rice pilaf on bread, with veal. This meal was served to the common people as well.

On Wednestay, June 13, a feast was held for up to three thousand army personal and artillerymen under the tents. In the evening the daily meal was also served to the people.

On Friday, June 16, over five thousand guests including the General of the Navy and sailors, were fed in the tents. As there was not a great amount of food, it was all finished.

On Monday, June 18, following a feast served to four thousand people, there were various shows, and another meal following the shows.

On Friday, July 7, Mehmet Paşa took the prince into a room, and in the presence of three witnesses, the prince was circumcised. The prince was put in a beautifully-prepared bed. They then informed the sultan, who gave fine presents to the doctor who performed the circumcision. The celebration lasted all day and all night.

An unparalleled celebration was also held upon the beginning of Mahmut II’s son Abdülmecid’s education. This celebration was held in 1832, in the İbrahim Ağa meadows near Kadıköy, and lasted three days. Tents were set up in the meadow for the occasion, and twenty-four thousand soldiers were called in to maintain order. The celebration drew nearly one hundred fifty thousand people. The sultan put his son into the charge of his teachers with a ceremony. To the sultan’s right were the sheikh-ul Islam and the palace teachers; and to his left, high-ranking state officials, and before the throne were the Army commanders and the Navy general. At the conclusion of the ceremony, various types of entertainment was held with the participation of the people (28).

With the exception of the great celebrations held in 1765 in Edirne by Mehmet IV, all of the celebrations from the 16th century on were held in Istanbul. The largest celebration held by Murat II during this period was in 1450, on the occasion of his son Mehmet’s wedding. This celebration included feasts and performances, as well as literary meetings, poetry was read and folk performances were held. Known as the longest wedding in Ottoman history, this celebration lasted three months (28).

Mehmet the Conqueror had his sons Beyazid and Mustafa Çelebi brought to Edirne for their circumcision, and to the celebration he invited the greatest scholars of the time, their lords, and the people of Edirne. The celebration included rich theatrical performances and displays of fireworks, as well as marksmanship, archery, horsemanship competitions and horse races. The most loved part was the evening fireworks, rockets and lamps. This rich display was repeated every night for a period. As in the ostentatious later celebrations, this celebration also included masterfully created sugar figures. It is safe to say that with the feasts, gift giving and performances, protocol at these feasts followed the same order as that of later sultan’s celebrations. The ceremonies proceeded as follows (28):

First day: Discussions among scholars
Second day: Reception of the sheikhs by the sultan
Third day: War games and sporting events
Fourth day: Gifts, feasts and sweets for the common people

In 1675, Sultan Mehmet IV had his elder son Mustafa (Mustafa II) and Ahmet (Ahmet III) circumcised in Edirne. This circumcision ceremony began on Sunday, May 14, 1675 and ended on Monday, May 29, lasting a total of fifteen days. Preparations for the celebration began in late 1674, and took six months working day and night. For the feasts, Hüseyin Ağa of Merzifon was brought from Istanbul and appointed head chef, and was given 150 palace chefs and 300 provincial chefs as assistants. A total of one hundred people were chosen to distribute coffee, sherbet and incense.

Prior to the festivities, 37,000 chickens, 5,000 geese and 6,000 ducks were brought. The kitchen utensils procured included 4000 wooden eating trays, 2000 platters, 200 large platers, 1,100 new platters borrowed from the merchants of Edirne, 30 large cauldrons, 3,000mevlit plats, 7,000 plates, 1,500 storage jars, 1,600 glass plates and 3.000 china plates.

A han was rented from the Sultan Selim for the making of the necessary nahıls (richly ornamented figures made of beeswax and other materials for certain celebrations), candies and other items required for the wedding. After much work, the large and small nahıls, candies, sugar figures etc. were ready. Two large nahıls and forty small ones were made for the celebration. This work required 200 candy makers, 150 nahıl makers and around 50 assistants.

The area chosen for the festivities was a broad area in front of the Edirne palace which was once known as the Cirit Meydanı (“Javelin Square”). Seven pavilion tents were set up in this area, some of them for the sultan and prince Mustafa, and the rest for the viziers, the sheikh and other statesmen. In front of these pavilions were decorated awnings in the shape of a half moon for the men to watch the performances. Next to the sultan’s pavilion, was a feast tent set up for the guests. Former palace halberdiers stood by the feast tends giving sherbet, coffee and incense. At the right side of the half-moon shaped tent was a circumcision tend for the commoners’ children. This was across from the royal ovens (28).

The day’s program for the 1675 circumcision celebraton:

1. The Grand Vizier or other viziers with him, along with other invited guests, enter the divanhane pavilion.

2. A feast was give to the people of the pavilion whose turn it was.

3. The halberdiers distributed sherbet, coffee and incense

4. The sultan and statesmen rest

5. Giving of gifts

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