According to the Turkish folk calendar, the first “cemre” fell on Feb. 19 and 20. There are two more yet to fall, one on Feb. 26 and 27 and the last one on March 5 and 6. The first always falls or drops to the air, the second to the water, and the third to the earth. But what exactly is “cemre?” For many foreigners, it is a female name they come across quite often in Turkey. The word is borrowed from Arabic (camra), though it has roots in Aramaic and Assyrian (gamera), and even deeper in in history, Akkadian (gumaru). In all those languages it refers to a piece of coal, but a burning one, or better described as a red-hot glowing ember. Interestingly, these words are all similar to “kömür,” which is coal in Turkish. So literally the “cemre fall” means glowing embers, pretty much like fireballs, falling from the sky. The fireballs falling are, of course, never visible, but one can imagine a meteor-like huge fireball passing by up in the sky, suddenly warming the air.
One thing certain about “cemre” is, it is sudden. In Turkey, it stands for that sudden feeling of spring in the air. The term “falling” is literal of course, it is an imaginative picture of a piece of sun breaking off form the mass and falling to the earth. Actually, it describes an energy of heat, the first effective sun rays hitting the air; then awakening the frozen water, warming it up and bringing forth life once more, eventually hitting the ground as the water flows and brings life to the soil, causing the earth to bloom into spring. This also reflects all the Shamanistic beliefs in our culture. Some linguists claim that the word has Turkic roots, meaning mist suspended in the air. This gradual passage from winter to spring reflects in the folk calendar as three stages of “cemre.” These week-apart stages of seasonal change also lead to the Turkic and Iranian start of the year Nevruz, or Nowruz, which is the official end to winter. Such significant days relating to certain changes of seasons are typical of folk calendars, based on agrarian cultures. Naturally, communities dependent on agriculture always have a watching eye upon the changes in nature. Recognizing these significant days goes missing in our urban lives, but the “cemre” falls seem to be remembered always, perhaps people long for the glow of spring after a tough and tiring winter, or perhaps the sudden change in the air is inevitably felt by all.
So, the virtual ball of fire can be for real!
As spring approaches, it is also time for foraged greens. The first to bloom through the melting snow is the crocus flower; its appearance brings the joy of spring, with glowing lantern-like yellowness, it is like a miracle repeating itself. The appearance of crocus flowers have been the reason for a spring festival in the Hittite times nearly 3,500 years ago, a rite of spring that is still reflected in rural countryside, especially in very same geography where the Hittite Kingdom used to exist. Children gather crocus flowers digging its bulbs together, and march in villages chanting as if announcing the spring coming. They visit each house gathering ingredients like cracked wheat bulgur, butter, salt, etc., and the whole event culminating to a joint feast of all, cooking a crocus studded bulgur pilaf.
Now that today the first “cemre” hit the air, the countdown has started. Wait for two sets of seven days to embrace the official start of spring. The second “cemre” will happen on Feb. 26, which this year coincides with the Lantern Festival celebrated in China and many other Asian countries. The date is the first full moon of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and needless to say it is the day for lovers, one of the most romantic days with breathtaking scenes of floating lanterns on waters and rising up in the air, under the glorious flow of the moon. This week, do not miss to celebrate the Lantern Festival, or fall of “cemre” to the water, go to a waterside, float a candle and celebrate the spring coming. It will be a spiritual act of welcoming the invisible spring fairy. I think, as the word is also a women’s name in Turkey, it would be more appropriate to interpret “cemre” as a spring fairy that brings warmth and glow to the air, the water and the earth, but it could well be a fireball that radiates with love!
Recipe of the Week: I’d suggest a green vegetable cooked Chinese style, to celebrate the coming of spring. This is one of the typical Chinese New Year dishes, one of the easiest and tastiest I would say. Choose a bunch of spinach, abundant nowadays in Turkish markets, choose smallish tender leaves, about 350 or 400 g. Wash the spinach leaves, you can leave the roots intact, just trimming the edges, and cutting the root in half without cutting off the leaves. Bring a large pan of water to a boil, blanch the spinach leaves a handful at a time for about 30 seconds only. Drain in a colander. Squeeze to remove the excess water. Arrange the blanched spinach in a single layer on a serving plate. Chop very finely an inch or so of fresh finger root to make up to about a full tablespoon. Combine ginger with a little soy sauce (about 1 tablespoon) and rice vinegar (about 2 tablespoons), and any cooking oil (about 1-2 tablespoons), add a few drops of sesame oil, and pour over the spinach. You can dilute the sauce with a few tablespoons of chicken stock; you can easily have a strong stock by dissolving a stock cube in warm water. Serve cold or lukewarm.