On April 23rd we went to see the Children’s Day celebrations. It’s been celebrated since 1927, when they transformed the anniversary of the Grand National Assembly’s establishment into the “The Holiday of National Sovereignty and Children”.
The celebration we went to was held in a large stadium, where representatives from local schools came to dance and perform. We strongly suspected that it wouldn’t be about play – that it might not really be about children, so much as future adults – but we were very interested in what the celebrations of this dual holiday might entail, and indicate.
By arriving late and wandering in through the first big door we found, we accidentally snuck into the press box.
Luckily, as an American I have a high tolerance of both synchronized dancing AND nationalism. In the bleachers all around us, toddlers sat on their parents’ laps and waved small red flags.
That’s a portrait of Ataturk (first President and essentially founder of the Republic of Turkey), and his image can be seen framed in every office, school and public space you visit in Turkey. If you have any interest in how a democratic, secular Turkey came into existence, I can recommend starting with the Wikipedia article and learning more. It’s fascinating stuff, and the people that we spoke with remain incredibly fond of him, and protective of his memory (and not just because it remains legally and socially difficult to criticize him).
While we sat on the bleachers and watched the performances, Hale clapped along and spoke fondly of the celebrations she had participated in as a child. She was sad that there were comparatively few people in the stands. “There are lots of celebrations,” she said. “Perhaps everyone is at their local event, and not here.”
But there were lots of people there, including celebrities and newscasters. I saw big foamy microphones from MTV and other stations, both those which Hale identified as being “cool” and those which were “religious”.
Behind the dancers were all the other children, presumably those not chosen for dancing. They were still dressed in the event’s colours and held up signs which changed to spell out the slogans of the day in big capitals.
The children waiting to perform stood in rows along either side of the stadium, chatting with one another in groups or swishing their giant bell sleeves in the air.
THIS IS YOUR DAY, said the signs behind the dancers, before flipping when the music changed.
ISTANBUL 2012, the next one said.