Celebrating Christmas in Georgia – The holiday which unites the entire country
05 January, 2018
Christmas has always been a special celebration in Georgia. This is the day when people express love, warmth and support in the name of Jesus Christ. On this day each Georgian has a special festive mood. The streets are decorated with beautiful Christmas illuminations and one can hear Christmas carols sung around.
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In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7

In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 according to the Julian Calendar and it marks the end of the
great fast. Believers usually meet Christmas in the church where special service is held and only afterwards they go and celebrate this day together with their family members and close people.
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Tbilisi Christmas lights. Photo courtesy Giorgi Shermazanashvili

One of the inseparable parts of this day is Traditional Christmas march called Alilo (named after the Georgian Christmas chant that is sang during the procession ). As a rule the march starts in the morning after the special Christmas service held in the churches. Orthodox Christians throughout Georgia take part in this beautiful Christmas event.
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Alilo procession

Thousands of people participate in Alilo: the clergy of different churches, parishioners and children wearing the Stikari - a gold, white or red colored robe worn by a priest’s assistant. They carry crosses and icons through the streets and collect food, sweets and other things which are later distributed to the people in need and orphanages. Anyone can join the march or donate some food, products or other items. The procession was banned during Soviet times but was restored in the 1990s.
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Alilo procession in Tbilisi

As for Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, here the procession begins at Rose Revolution Square, moves along Rustaveli Avenue and ends at the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi.

During Alilo, kids are dressed like angels and adults like Shepherds, similar to the scene of magi visiting infant Jesus in the stable. According to the Holly Gospel, the birth of Christ took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals in Bethlehem. Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child.
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Children love to take part in Alilo, as they get a lot of sweets from locals

The Gospel of Matthew also describes a visit by several magi, or astrologists, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The visitors were told to follow a mysterious star, commonly known as the Star of Bethlehem, believing it to proclaim the birth of the messiah.

Spiritual songs play an important role in the Christmas tradition in Georgia. As a rule, participants of Alilo perform Christmas carols during the procession.

Christmas trees serve as an important attribute at Georgian Christmas, as well. Specifically for this celebration, chichilaki -  a traditional Georgian Christmas Tree is made from dried hazelnut branches that are shaved to form a small coniferous tree. 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. For Georgians, Chichilaki is considered to be the tree of life, symbolizing hope and belief.
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Chichilaki, Georgian version of Christmas tree

Every Christmas, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia the second delivers a Christmas service together with members of the Holy Synod and other priests at Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. The Patriarch addresses the parish with his Christmas epistle at the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. Special services are held in all churches throughout Georgia. Christmas concludes the 40-day fast that traditionally starts on November 28. This is a time of reflection, self-restraint and inner healing in the sacrament of confession.
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Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

Parishioners prepare themselves for receiving the Eucharist by being on fast and reading prayers. The service starts late at night on January 6 and lasts till morning 4 or 5 am on January 7. After the communion, everyone congratulates each other on the birth of Christ and the leader of the church delivers speech in relation to Christmas in front of the people.
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Christmas in Georgia is a day of celebration, joy, good food, family and friends

Christmas in Georgia is a day of celebration, joy, good food, family and friends. Church services, Christmas carols and an entire country united for Alilo processions make Christmas in Georgia a beautiful and unique celebration.

Related stories:

How Georgians Celebrate the New Year and Christmas

Which food each region of Georgia offers at Christmas

Gurian patty-cake - Georgian Christmas dish
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