Old New Year – Why New Year is celebrated twice in Georgia
13 January, 2018
Old New Year – Why New Year is celebrated twice in Georgia
Everyone agrees that New Year is the celebration which brings you a lot of joy and happiness. But what if it was celebrated not only once, but twice? Of course everyone would feel more delighted and would get a huge amount of positive emotions for the next year. It happens in Georgia – here New Year is celebrated twice: traditional New Year on January 1st and Old New Year on January 14th, according to the Julian calendar.
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Tbilisi in winter

The Old New Year or the Orthodox New Year is an informal holiday, celebrated as the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar. New Year is officially celebrated around the world on January 1st, according to the Gregorian calendar, and this is the case in Georgia as well. But the Georgian Orthodox church still uses the older Julian calendar, which does not coincide with the Gregorian one as January 1 (Julian) falls on January 14 (Gregorian).
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New Year illuminations in Tbilisi

Over the years, however, celebrating the ‘old’ New Year has become more than just a religious observance as for many Georgians January 14 serves more as a final day of New Year and Christmas celebrations (the latter is observed on December 31 according to the Julian calendar, which falls on January 7 according to the Gregorian one). Subsequently after 14th of January people start folding their Christmas trees and decorations.
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Christmas decorations on Rustaveli Avenue

Other countries where the tradition of the Old New Year has been kept are : Palestine, Jordan, Armenia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina (mostly in Republika Srpska), Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Moldova, Ukraine (Malanka), Wales (as Hen Galan) and Switzerland (as alter Silvester).
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New Year fireworks in Tbilisi. Photo courtesy Davit Papiashvili

Old New Year in Georgia is celebrated almost in the same way as the original one, but not with as big festivity and preparation. Traditional Georgian New Year's table (supra) is always arranged on this beautiful night. Delicious Georgian dishes represent an integral part of the New Year’s feast. Georgians believe that you should greet the New Year with generosity, so supra is always rich in mouthwatering dishes.
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Delicious Georgian dishes represent an integral part of the New Year’s feast

In some families people also congratulate each other by lighting the sparkles.

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However, there are some must-haves in Georgian cuisine that everyone should have on New Year’s eve: satsivi (a food paste made primarily from walnuts and used in various recipes), eggplant with walnuts, khachapuri, (a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread), gozinaki, an incomparable Georgian dessert made of walnuts and honey aas well as Churchkhela – famous Georgian candy made from grape juice and walnuts or hazelnuts. Yet in some households Old New Year is celebrated with relatively modest supra, where only sweets are served. Additionally, similarly to January 1st, people shoot fireworks from their windows and balconies on January 14th.
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Famous Georgian candy Churchkhela

Old New Year is especially popular in Guria Region, the western part of Georgia. Here, this celebration is called Kalanda and is even more important than the traditional New Year marked on January 1st.
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Gurian supra decorated with Chichilaki

The main attribute of Kalanda fest is Chichilaki, a Georgian version of Christmas tree. 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 remains very common and you won’t find a home in Western Georgia, especially villages, without this beautiful Georgian competitor of a standard Christmas pine tree.

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Old illustration: celebrating New Year in Guria

Gurians 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, so Chichilaki is important symbol of Gurian Kalanda.

As the New Year is approaching, some people in Guria welcome it by shooting guns at midnight. After 12 o’clock, the whole family sits around beautifully decorated table. Gurian Christmas pie is the main attribute of New Year’s table. In this region they are baked in the shape of the crescent-moon, made of wheat flour, boiled egg and cheese. As it is known, the shape of the Gurian pie was connected with celestial bodies and was a symbol of strength for the ancient Gurians.
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Gurian Christmas pie baked in Ketsi (traditional Georgian clay)

As a rule, the pies are baked for each member of the family, so everyone has his/her own pie. Kids usually get samller pies while adults bigger ones. The person who eats it is supposed to have good year, so this tradition can be explained as a symbol of caring about your family members as well.
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Traditional Gurian Christmas pie

The tradition of Mekvle(the first guest that comes to the family at New Year) is firmly preserved here. Usually, Mekvle is a little boy, who is believed to bring joy, success, happiness and prosperity to the host family. The Mekvle is often a friend or a close relative of the family who comes as a guest on New Year’s Eve or at dawn.

Related stories:

Chichilaki – Georgian version of Christmas tree

Tbilisi, city full of lights

How Christmas tree was decorated in Tbilisi a century ago

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

Celebrating New Year in Georgia now and then

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