In the ancient times of the Ottoman society, the winter entertainment of the whole people from every status was the halva conversations made with friends gathered together at nights. On these conversations, a variety of entertainments were organized depending on the taste and facilities of the organizer. Games were played, poetries were read, conversations were made and of course halva was eaten; in this way, the long winter nights would go far from being boring.
The heads of the state, the upper class, the middle class, craftsman guilds, each class would hold halva conversionts within their network. In these gatherings, twenty or thirty kinds of sweet and salty food would be consumed in a mixed order.
Evliya Çelebi tells that the soldiers were also holding halva conversations at the times everything was settled. In case of any attack by the enemies, they would enlighten the trenches with the torches, and then they would hymn and the janissary band would join them with baglama and shrill pipe. From the soldiers on guard duty at the Fortress of Van to the ones at the Fortress of Baghdat, the soldiers at different places would colour up their nights with halva conversations.
From time to time, halva conversations were hold by the sultan himself. To the invitees of the conversation, a letter was sent under the title of “halva conversation invitation scrip”. Besides the grand vizier, top goverment authorities would participate in the conversations held in the palace. In addition, the most famous poets of the era, historians, scientists, craftsmen and respected names that are master of their business were the constant guests of the halva conversations held in the palace. New ideas were created, scientific arguments were made and new seekings would arise in culture and art during the halva conversations. Besides the palaces, this kind of conversations were also held at the mansions of the pashas, guilds and residences of the wealthy families.
During the Ottoman Empire, the most glorious halva conversations were the ones held during the Tulip Period. In this period, besides with Sultan III. Ahmed and the Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Pasha, deputies, rich people and the nobilities held halva conversations and invited the famous and respected people. Usually, the sultan would participate in the halva conversations held by the Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Pasha. And Nedim, poet of the Tulip Period, would definetly be present at the halva conversations held by the Sultan III. Ahmed and Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Pasha. Halva conversations held in the palace had also contributed to Nedim’s arising as an importand poet in the history of literary. Music and poetry was sine qua non at the conversations. A band of fifty or sixty would give a concert, singers would sing with their beautiful voices, and especially the invited famous poets of the era would praise both the sultan, the grand vizier and the other viziers and they would be awarded. Proffessional imitators, encomiasts, dancer boys and comedians were invited to these invites, as well. Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Pasha sometimes would hold halva conversations in the honor of the foreign deligates in order to show the power and wealth of the Ottoman Empire. The heads of the era, engrossed in showing off their wealth, started to organize more and more imposing and frequent banquets. At the end of the banquet, all the invitees, sergeants waiting at the door and employees of the delegates were dressed up with zibeline and weasel coat, depending on their ranks, and also given other presents. Sergeants would apploud while the eminents were being dressed up in coats.
However, despite the whole array, the halva conversations held by the statesmen weren’t as warm and sincere as the ones held by the public. Regardless of the diversity of the food, the most significant treat was halva and it was served in the salvers.
Entertainment would hold an essential place in the halvah conversations of the public. Poems were read, ballads and hymns were sung, riddles were asked and variable games were played. The conversations were frequently held on behalf of a specific person. As there was no room large enough to hold everyone in the host’s place. The participants would bring foods such as pies, pastries, dried fruits and nuts,syrup, sherbet, and boza (zythum).
The craftsmen guilds would also gather together and make halva conversations, during these conversations a variety of pastries, desserts, sherbets, bozas were consumed and games were played by midnight.
With the abolishment of the guilds in 1913, prohobition of gatherings during the reign of II. Abdulhamid and adoption of western life style by the residents of Istanbul, halva conversations fell into disfavor.
However, it continued in Anatolia by the middle of 20th century.
One of the last witnesses of halva conversations, Süleyman Bilgen who was born in Edirne in 1921, tells the halva conversations held in Edirne in these words : “On the first night, the cream of the society would come. Before halva was eaten, the famous preacher of Edirne, Hafiz Rakım Ertür, would come and say prayers. In the afternoon, halva was cooked in huge caldrons and was served at the tables in saucepans. Moreover, it was served from the special pickles of Edirne, not like the acidic pickles of today. Everyone would sit around and at the time the negotiations and the other stuff was carried out, one of the famous saz players (a stringed musical instrument) of Edirne, Osman Pehlivan the Drummer, would sing old Rumelian songs. Games were played, the elderly persons would point at someone and tell him to perform an imitation, the ones who wouldn’t perform were punished. Afterwards, halva was served. Everbody would sit down and eat their delicious halva. Then we would go back to the saloon. Small furnaces were set in the saloon for making coffee and many cups of coffee were drunk. Everyone was given halva put in a brown-bag to take home when they left. These nights was recurred a few times in a year. That was the first night of the halva conversations, to which the notables of the city were invited. On the following night, halva night was organized as a second party for the merchants, craftsmen and farmers of the city. Halva nights was organized to eliminate the resentments and develop more close relationships.“.
Let’s end this subject with a qoutation from the book of A. Ragıp Akyavaş named Asitane :
The lingering summer, and the sweltering heat overwhelming everyone, fairly depresses one of the sultans. Thus he decides to have a winter pleasure in summer. He immediately organizes a halva conversation. He invites primarily the grand vizier along with the other viziers, military judges of Anatolia and Rumelia, Kaptan Pashas, Master Marksmen. All the doors and windows are properly closed. Thick and precious carpets are hung over the walls. Fires are lit on the fireplaces. The center of the saloon is filled with brass brasiers. The guests enter the saloon with their furs, winter clothes, woollen socks, boots and sandals on as the sultan desired so. And when the sultan asks to the dignified statesmen sitting across him; “Ohh, what a cold, I have never lived such a cold winter in my whole life. What do you think?”, they reply: “You are definitely right our lord! It has been years we haven’t seen such a winter.”. Then the Sultan poses another question, “Shall we hold a halva conversation then?”. And they exclaim all together, “Best thing to do my lord!”. Upon a movement of the flunkeys’ quilted turbans, the chief halva maker is called with his sous-chefs. Huge caldrons are set and the process of making halva begins. When the steams surrounds everywhere, along with the heat emitted from the furnaces, people inside feels like they will pass out. Despite all of these, the renowned statesmen highly force themselves to ingratiate themselves with the sultan. They talk like “We have a lot of fun, we enjoy the winter thanks to our lord.”. At this time, a vizier is seen sitting aside, looking sad and thoughtful. Another vizier approaches to him and asks :
“What is the reason of your being sad your excelency? Why don’t you join in the entertainment?”
The vezier, somehow unable to understand organizing a winter entertainment in summer, replies :
“To tell the truth, I really want to have fun, but I can’t stop myself asking this question. On the case that our sultan, our lord desires to have a summer pleasure at the Çamlıca hill in the fiercest day of the winter, at a time the cold wind is blowing, what the hell are we going to do?”.