How Georgians Celebrate the New Year and Christmas
09 January, 2015
How Georgians Celebrate the New Year and Christmas
New Year’s Eve is a long-awaited holiday and significant all over the world. However, unlike the West where the big day is Christmas, Georgian chief celebrations focus on New Year’s Day and its following Bedoba, the day of luck. What you do on this day, Bedoba, January 2nd, will determine how you will fare for the rest of the year.

“Bring as many bulls, cows and piglets to me as here are sparks” - Past and Present Traditions

“The individuality
of Georgian celebratory customs are directly connected with the diversity of traditions of Georgian regions,” Tamila Tsagareishvili, an experienced ethnographer, told us.

In western Georgia, the New Year was called Kalanda, while in mountainous Svaneti it was referred to as Zomkha and in Kartli – Abramiani. All Georgians would welcome the New Year by shooting guns. Chichilaki – the Georgian ritual Christmas tree was an inseparable part of the New Year and Christmas tradition in ancient Georgia.
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Chichilaki

On New Year’s Eve, the head of the family would go out with Chichilaki and a festive tray full of fruits and Georgian sweets. Bread with honey was later replaced by Gozinaki, the delicious candy made of walnut and honey, an absolute necessity of the New Year.
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Gozinaki

The father of the family would get up at the first crow of the rooster, wash his hands in the spring, fill the jar and return home with Chichilaki decorated with pomegranates, apples, beads and bonbons. According to the rule, he has to knock thrice. Then, family members will inquire: what are you bringing? He will list all the good and desired things. There is a special rhyme too that goes approximately like this: “I have stepped in, let God give you Mercy, let my foot turn into an angel’s trace.” He says Happy New Year to all members and they do the same, then he spreads wheat all over the room and blesses his hearth like that: “Let it bring prosperity, peace, a good harvest of wine and wheat.” This person, who was supposed to be a man in general, is called Mekvle.

In Guria, the New Year’s herald will go to the domestic store of wine called Marani as well and pray for the fertility of vine. The institute of Mekvle is firmly preserved here too. This person, who is often a small boy, is believed to bring joy, success, happiness and prosperity. The main Mekvle is most often a friend or a close relative of the family who comes as a guest on New Year’s Eve or at dawn.
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In Guria, the New Year’s herald will go to the domestic store of wine called Marani as well

Chichilaki has analogues in other parts of Georgia too. In Svaneti, locals would prepare the so-called arch on behalf of a dead person by bending the tall trunk of the tree down to the earth and then fastening it, decorating it with different kinds of offerings. The belief of Chichilaki and similar sorts of trees originate from the tree of life and ideas connected with fruitfulness. Similar kinds of beliefs can be found in the cultures of many peoples of Europe.

In Eastern Georgia, the New Year is also met with joy. They bake a Georgian gingerbread man called Basila as well as doughnuts of destiny. The elder man of the family will fill the tray with the head of boiled piglet, surround it with pasties and cap them with the statue of Basila. The New Year’s tray is called Abramiani. Mekvle would go around his house three times, holding candles, then enter, go to the fireplace, stir it and say: “Bring as many bulls, cows and piglets to me as here are sparks.”
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Basila

In the calendar of Georgian festivals, a great importance was given to Christmas Eve and Christmas day, characterized with different kinds of magic customs. In the past, we used to celebrate it on the 25th of December as well. It is proved by the text of our Christmas song as well. Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, each family would boil a porridge called Korkoti (made of wheat, walnut and raisins) that was also called Christ’s porridge. This was the day off and it was strictly forbidden to sew, knit or do any other handiwork. The elder woman would ask God for the long life of the family members and then would she begin Christmas preparations.
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Korkoti

Women would bake ritual breads, patties with crosses, lobianis (patties made of lobio – the Georgian word for kidney beans), and Christmas pastries.

Christmas patties were the main attributes of the Christmas feast. In Guria, a region in western Georgia, they were made in the shape of the crescent-moon, made of wheat flour, boiled egg and cheese. The sa­me number was cooked, as there were family members. The pasties of destiny were also baked and whichever one would change its shape while being made, the person who ate it was supposed to have good year. The Christmas piglet was killed on Christmas Eve. It was also a rule to send a Christmas gift to one’s godfather/godmother, or to the family of one’s married daughter, etc.
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Gurian Christmas pie

Normally, Christmas morning begins with the end of the holiday fasting by bread and cheese and porridge (Korkoti), killing a piglet (or a sheep, chicken or cock), paying a tribute to the memory of the deceased, preparing khinkali, preparing the Christmas dish with sacred water, brewing beer, etc. Ancient forms of pagan winter celebrations are merged with Christian ones in folk Christmas festivals. They all aim to promote fertility, happy families and a good future. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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