Chichilaki – Georgian version of Christmas tree
30 December, 2014
Chichilaki – Georgian version of Christmas tree
Chichilaki is the Georgian version of the Christmas tree that was an inseparable part of New Year and Christmas centuries ago in Georgia.

The chichilaki represents a Georgian traditional Christmas tree made from dried hazelnut or walnut branches that are shaved to form a small coniferous tree.

Chichilaki was especially popular in Western Georgia, where the New Year is called Kalanda. To this day, Chichilaki remains very common and you won’t find a home in Western Georgia, especially villages,
with a now standard Christmas pine tree not accompanied by its humble, yet beautiful Georgian competitor.

Old illustration

Early in the morning, the Chichilaki masters, called Veluri (wild), would go into the forest just before the New Year, cut a branch of a hazelnut tree and soak it in water. Then, they would heat it over a fire, remove the bark and start cutting thin shavings from end to top. This is how Chichilaki – the Georgian national Christmas tree is made.
Chichilaki making process

Of course, the masters knew their craft well, they would put ornaments and additional branches on the tree, but the basics of making a chichilaki are quite simple – in fact you can easily do it at home. You'll just need a hazel tree branch, a knife, a hammer and some nails.
Gurian man making Chichilaki. Photo courtesy Goga Chanadiri

Chichilakis are most common in the Guria and Samegrelo regions of western Georgia, near the Black Sea, but they can also be found at the markets and in some stores around the capital of Tbilisi.
Chichilaki market

The tradition of making of chichilaki is an important part of the Georgian Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on 7 January. Georgians believe that the shaved tree resembles the famous beard of St. Basil the Great, who is thought to visit people during Christmas similar to the Santa Claus tradition. Chichilaki also represent the tree of life, a symbol of hope and belief for Georgians.
A snowman made from Chichilaki

Every year, people in Georgia decorate Chichilaki with little red berries,dried fruits and Georgian staple churchkhela, what makes this fluffy Christmas tree even more beautiful. They are attached to the tree as a symbol of bountiful harvest and hope for better future.
Red berries,dried fruits and Georgian staple churchkhela make Chichilaki even more beautiful

The chichilakis are then ceremoniously burned on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany on 19 January to symbolize the end of the previous year's troubles.
The chichilakis are then ceremoniously burned
The use of the Chichilaki as a Christmas decoration is generally believed by the Georgians to be more environment-friendly than the cutting of pine trees. Since they are made from pruned branches, it is considered to be helpful for the trees.

Related stories:

Celebrating New Year in Georgia now and then

How Georgians Celebrate the New Year and Christmas

How Tbilisi celebrated New Year in the past – Traditions you have not heard about

How Christmas tree was decorated in Tbilisi a century ago
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