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Caucasus: New Year, Christmas

With Christmas and the New Year usually accompanied by lavish television spectaculars and decorations in the center of most cities worldwide, celebrations in countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are the same to some extent, but usually more low-key and family-orientated. A number of expat workers and Peace Corps Volunteers in all three countries offer an outside eye on proceedings.

Seeing in the New Year in the South Caucasus, however, is not without its risks, as Running Around Armenia explains.

My stomach and head hurt. Celebrating the New Year in this country is a little different. I haven’t done this much damage to my body in years. New Years lasts for 13 days, and I’m on day 3. I’m screwed. […]

Moore From the Source details the holiday season in Armenia.

Armenia has a different church calendar than the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations in the rest of the world. And, within this calendar, Christmas falls on January 6. And, it seems that the holiday’s celebration is masked, in a large share, by the magnitude of excitement that consumes the country in respect to New Year’s. […]

In the states we all get excited for a wild bash on New Year’s Eve. But here, the actual tick of the second hand at the stroke of midnight is not really that important. […] Certainly people stay awake for this nocturnal moment, but the party leading up to it is usually small and restricted to family. But that’s alright, because starting on January first, every home will have a massive table laid out for all of the neighbors, friends, and family to pillage. Essentially, it is a non-stop feast with traditional foods such as dolma, kyufta, pastries, cognac, vodka, dolma, and cognac. And these parties will last until January 6. It’s wild.

Yes, Santa Claus does exist here, but he goes by another alias…that crafty s.o.b. Here he is called something in Armenian that I can’t type because I have a western keyboard… and because dollars to doughnuts, you don’t speak Armenian. But, the literal translation of his name is “Winter Father”. […]

Elizabeth's Armenia Journal also notes that much of the country has shut down for an extended holiday.

I'm sure I wrote about this last year. The last weeks of December are a busy time for Armenians, especially the women, shopping, cooking, cleaning, cooking, baking, cooking for their big Nor Taree celebration on Jan 1. Each family prepares big tables full of food and the first week in January is busy w/ everyone visiting everyone else, eating the same food in different houses.

[…]

Unlike the US, New Years is not a go out to public place and eat dinner, dance and drink event. It is much more family oriented, tho w/ plenty of eating, dancing and drinking. We had a hard time finding a restaurant that was open New Year's Eve. We ended up being the only ones (6 of us) in what is normally a very popular and crowded restaurant.

[…]

The main square in Yerevan was festively decorated – bright, lots of neon. However, for a city of 1.5 million, the crowd at midnight was pretty sparse. I doubt there were more than a couple hundred people at most. Some mild fireworks preceded by pop singers and that was it for the celebration.

The Tbilisi Blues, comments on preparations for the New Year and Christmas festivities in Georgia.

While a family may spend large sums of money on a restaurant banquet or a home cooked feast, they do not go into debt to prove their love by buying junk nobody really needs. Jesus can look down from heaven and be pleased that the Georgians have not blasphemed his name by turning it into some gazillion dollar consumer phantasm where people are compelled to feel inadequate if they don't go along with the program or labeled scrooges if they dissent of such artificiality. The holiday season is the most lively time of the year and you can enjoy it fully without ever having to step into a shopping mall or sing We Three Kings.

[…]

This is not to say the symbolic act of gift giving is ignored, for on New Year's Eve (the December one), gifts are modestly exchanged and Georgian Santa Claus – Tovlis Babya – arrives that night with a present for each kiddie. December 31st is the big bash, ordinarily celebrated at home with family and close friends until midnight, when many people continue their festivities elsewhere till the morning hours. […]

The New Year's day is spent at a relative, neighbor or friend's house, working on the previous night's leftovers, inevitably washed down with more toasts. For the next two weeks, Tbilisi closes down for an extended binge.

Technically, being a good Georgian Orthodox Christian means one should fast through this period of gluttony, but Georgians for the most part make an exception for the holiday season. Nevertheless, on December 7th, Georgians will attend mass to commemorate Jesus’ birthday according to the Julian (Orthodox) calendar. […]

Azerbaijan does not celebrate Christmas, but as with Armenia and Georgia, it is the New Year that is the main event. Nevertheless, many of the Christmas symbols recognized in the West are still employed, as AzerbaiJane explains.

Yolka is the Azeri word for evergreen tree. Being a muslim country, they obviously don't celebrate Christmas here, but, not wanting to be left out of all of the festive fun, they have adopted many of the Christmas traditions for their New Years celebration. Shafta Baba – also known as Santa Claus – comes to visit on New Years – and brings toys for children (according to some of my students. Others say he doesn't bring stuff.) New Year's lights and decorations go up in shops and offices. And, they have a yolka, decorated with lights and ornaments and a star on top.

27 Months in Azerbaijan was so taken with the way of life in the villages that he wanted to participate as well as reflect on life in the West.

It’s common in Ujar to see Azerbaijanis walking from the bazaar to their homes with live chickens in their hands; held by their feet. […] Though I’ve always turned my head, there have been several times that I’ve seen people carry their hens out to the street to sever the head, and prepare the carcass for dinner. If I was ever going to have a chance to purchase, kill, prepare, and eat a chicken, it was going to be here. Still, I’ve always been a big squeamish when it comes to murdering things with eyes, but I knew in the back of my head that if I think it’s alright to eat these little guys, I should be able to kill it.

Learning to Walk in Stilettos reminds its readers that New Year's Eve is also the Day of Solidarity in Azerbaijan while back in Georgia, Wu Wei wishes its readers a Happy New Year, but adds that 2008, presumably because of a short-lived war with Russia, is one that many Georgians might want to forget.

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