Georgian New Year celebration traditions from ancient to nowadays

28 Dec 2013

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By Tamar Khurtsia, Anastasia Zurabishvili

Journalists, agenda.ge

Agenda.ge,28 Dec 2013 Tbilisi,Georgia


How did Georgians celebrate New Year in ancient times. What is a more environmentally friendly Georgian version of the Christmas tree. Who is Mekvle and what you should know about Georgian traditions of the holiday season.

Georgians post-modern Christmas tree tradition

Are Georgians up on the latest fashion in Christmas trees or not, the Chichilaki (a strait hazelnut branch with curly fronds attached at the top) is popular right now. It is also considered as the environmentally friendly Christmas tree. Once seen as an ancient holiday decoration, Chichilaki has become more popular than ever as a Christmas tree for each Georgian family.

Ancient

"Even before the Christ period, Georgians have been making the Georgian-style Christmas tree Chichilaki that was believed to be the symbol of sun and tree of life, an art critic Nino Datunashvili said. "The berries and sweets are also among the decorations, she added.  

Kalpi and Bokeri, the decoration of Chichilaki.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

The main attribute of Chichilaki were the two bow-shaped items called Kalpi and Bokeri that were put on the Chichilaki. Kalpi was made from ivy leafs and Bokeli was a bread baked with eggs, flour, and cheese both as the symbols of life and fertility.

To inherit the tradition of a variety of post-modern Christmas trees and a New Year season greetings, the Georgian National Museum leads a program for children - "New Year Greetings in Ancient Time Georgia. According to Datunashvili, who leads the two hour program, a variety of visual materials for children's are introduced for the New Year-related ritual subjects and their symbolic purpose.

Ethnologist Gvantsa Archvadze holds Khoncha in her hands talks about its tradition.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

Chichilaki originated in the provinces of Guria and Samegrelo, the western part of the country while Khoncha, a decorated board tray with bread, sweets, pomegranate, nuts, wine, and ritual breads originated in eastern Georgia.

The tradition of decorating the Christmas pine tree, Georgians started from the 18th century. New Year was celebrated at different periods of the year, even in August and the first month of the spring in past centuries in Georgia. Since the 14th century, Georgia celebrates the New Year on January 1.

Mekvle

In Georgia, the person who first comes to the family after midnight and congratulates a New Year calls Mekvle.

"It was a tradition that Mekvle must bring Khoncha when hosting the family as a symbol of happiness. The fruitful Khoncha symbolizes the prosperous next year for the family, thats why it was prepared with great care. Unfortunately the preparing the Khoncha tradition is not as common as Chichilaki in the capital city, said Ethnologist of the National Museum of Georgia, Gvantsa Archvadze.

Parents eager the children to get introduced the ancient New Year traditions.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

Archvadze believes that by introducing children to the ancient New Year traditions, it will encourage them not to forget about Georgian past.

Crafting Chichilaki

Chichilaki is a more environmentally friendly Christmas tree than cutting down evergreen trees, as Chichilaki are made only from pruned branches, leaving the hazelnut trees healthy and intact.

Chichilakis are straight hazelnut branches, shaved into the shape of a small coniferous tree, varying in length from 20cm (8in) to a few meters.

Chichilaki is a mens craft. Before New Year eve, a man cuts hazelnut tree branches and put them in the water. Then they are dried in front of a stove. It is repeatedly shaved with special knife all around and curly fronds attached at the top.

Traditional hazelnut Chichilaki popular in Tbilisi.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

It is the eighth season that a few weeks before the New Year, Malkhaz Antia, 32, who is a Chkaduashi villager from the western Georgian city of Zugdidi, travels to the capital city of Tbilisi to sell Chichilakis.

"The villagers studied the Chichilaki making from ancestors. For this season, I made more than 300 and have found that the demand for Chichilaki is increasing year by year. The price for it starts from one GEL to 500 GEL. The tallest one I made this year was 4.2 metre and has already sold, Antia said.

According to art critics, traditionally the Chichilakis will then be burnt on January 19, during the feast of Epiphany, to symbolize that all the worries will be left in the previous year.

Celebration 2013

Christmas and New Year celebrations usually start all over the country on December 20 with the illuminating of streets and lightning of the Christmas Trees at the main squares of the cities. Most Georgians celebrate Christmas according to Orthodox tradition on January 7, but the street Christmas fairs and celebration events start earlier in December.

Christmas fair on Chardin str. in Tbilisi. Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

This year the lightening of the main New Year Tree of the country held on December 25 at the Old Parliament building on the Rustaveli Ave. in Tbilisi. The army of Santa Clauses started their journey from this place to the 64 regions of Georgia to congratulate the children all over the country. Over 1000 Santa Clauses will travel by special Christmas buses and will send greetings to the little Georgians in every village.

Santas will visit every little village of Georgia during the New Year's holiday.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

According to the Ministry of Culture, the scale of this project is unprecedented and aims to give the opportunity of celebrating New Year to the entire population of Georgia.

The celebration events in Tbilisi are organized by Tbilisi City Hall and the Ministry of Culture and will continue in different forms until the first part of January. From December 27 till January 1st, a grand 3D show Snow Queen will be presented in the Tbilisi Sports Palace. By the decision of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, over 6000 socially vulnerable children across the whole country will receive tickets to the show as a special present. In total, both the Ministry of Culture and Tbilisi City Hall spent over 1 million GEL on the events dedicated to Christmas and New Year.

December and the beginning of January is full of hard days nights for Santas.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

Places to go

One more place to go on New Year weekend is the open air skating rink in the Rike Park. This place is very popular among Georgian teenagers because ice skating is quite exotic for the mild climate of Tbilisi. Anyone can skate there for free from December 25 to February 1st.

Skating rink in Rike park is very popular place to in Tbilisi on winter holidays.  Photo by N. Alavidze. See more about Christmas celebrations in Georgia "In Pictures".

A grand concert is also planned at Europe square on New Years Eve at 22:30. The tradition to meet New Year outdoors in the city has become more and more popular in last 10 years, butmost Georgians believe that on December 31 at 24:00 you should meet the New Year at home with your family.

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