CULTURE
How Tbilisi celebrated New Year in the past – Traditions you have not heard about
15 December, 2015
Georgians can boast various traditions related to the New Year celebration. All regions of the country celebrate New Year in their own particular way. Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, was also notable for its New Year customs some of which have endured many centuries and are still widely popular among the society. However some of the old traditions were forgotten a long ago.

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Tbilisi celebrated New Year in the past – Traditions you have not heard about " />

This is how a century ago one of the biggest and most beautiful Christmas trees in Tbilisi looked like

Here we uncover how Tbilisi and its citizens used to celebrate New Year during old times, based on the information provided by Georgian cultural expert Tsira Elisashvili.

Tbilisi was a very theatrical city that used to invent different celebrations that were later established as traditions. New Year was no exception. Gozinaki, the most famous Georgian treat made from honey and nuts specifically for New Year was prepared at that time as well, but apart from that, a sweet cake named basila was very popular too.

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Gozinaki

The cake was called basila after the saint Basil who used to live in the fourth century. On January 1, Saint Basil’s day was celebrated and due to this occasion every family used to bake this human shaped cake with the raisins. Basila was a favorite snack for children, especially.

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Basila

There was another old tradition according to which the head of the family used to take one big coal and drop it right in the middle of the room on New Year’s Eve. If the coal broke into many pieces then it was considered as a sign of wealth and prosperity.

Also Georgian women used to stay at home on this day since guests could come at any time and the housewives had to lay table and be ready to meet them properly. Also, in contrast with today, hosts always used to arrange who would be their “Mekvle” in advance. The tradition of Mekvle was another curious and interesting Christmas custom that is still common in every household. Mekvle is a person who first crosses the threshold of the house in the New Year. It is thought that Mekvle can bring happiness, prosperity and fertility but also unhappiness and bad luck. That is why, in previous years people tended to search for a person with good track record and invite him/her into their houses in advance, while making sure nobody crossed the threshold before him/her.
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New Year was considered a family celebration, so in many cases family members used to stay at home, but on the very second day the feast shifted to the city streets. The city architecture also played its role in making it easier to celebrate different occasions in an urban environment. At that time the houses in Tbilisi had flat roofs that often served as perfect locations for gatherings and feasts.

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Painting by Grigory Gagarin

Another strange practice during New Year was when the head of each family went out and made one or more shots in the air with his gun. Hence, the New Year’s Eve was so noisy that people often joked that if you had not known that it was New Year then you would have probably thought that there was a war.

First painting by Giorgi Kukhalashvili
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