Written by Baia Dzagnidze
Chichilaki Georgian Christmas Tree photo by Irma Laghadze *Wikipedia
Georgia is the country of traditions. Pretty much every occasion here has its own customs with New Year and Christmas being no exception. While the rest of the world is slowly getting into the festive mood, choosing their Christmas tree, buying gifts, and preparing for the mostimportant feast of the year, Georgians are not in a hurry. And here is why.
Christmas in Georgia is Celebrated on January 7
Unlike many Catholic countries, Georgia follows the Julien Calendar for its festivities, which means that every special occasion ismarked 13 days after. This also applies to Easter. There’s even a Georgian song called “On December 25th,”where the lyrics clearly state that the Jesus Christ was born on this date in Bethlehem.
Today, January 7th is a public holiday everyone spends with their families. On this day, there’s a parade in streets called Alilo, where locals dress up in special costumes and march from the center of Tbilisi towards Holy Trinity Church singing Christmas carols.
The celebration of Christmas is not completewithout a family feast. There’s even a special type of Khachapuri specifically baked for this date. It’s called Guruli Gvezeli (Gurian pie) and calls for typical Khachapuri ingredients plus boiled eggs inside the dough.
New Year is celebrated like anywhere in the world
When it comes to New Year, as for many other holidays, Georgians have two dates to celebrate the new year. The biggest and most important one is the eve of December 31, and the second one, or Old New Year as locals call it, is marked on the eve of January 13.
Georgians spend the December 31 preparing meals for the evening. This is the day all family members come together to help eachother with meal preparation, decorations, and other household chores.
The dinner table is set up very late at night, at around 11 p.m, but no one congratulates each other until 12:00:01 a.m when the New Year actually comes. Everyone has a sparkling wine in their glasses and cheers to each other with congratulatory words like “Happy New Year” followed by a small toast hoping the new year will bring happiness, prosperity, and peace both in their homes and the whole country.
There’s a special menu for New Year’s Eve
If you’ve visited the country, or have heard abit about it, you’ll know that food is the key to every celebration, meeting, or occasion. Big and significant dates, like New Year and Easter, have their own traditional menu everyone tries to follow.
The New Year’s Eve menu is divided into two parts- food and sweets. On the main dinner table, you’ll most likely see a turkey or chicken in a walnut stew called Satsivi, pieces of oven backed suckling pig, appetizers like Pkhali, and salads
There’s a separate table set for sweets, usually, the coffee table is used for it, where a big vase is full of various fruits anddried persimmons. Next to it, you’ll find various nuts, candies, Churchkhela and Gozinakhi. The latter two is an absolute must-have sweet during Christmas and New Year. Gozinakhi is made from honey and walnuts.
The second day of the New Year is a day of fate
Georgians are firm believers of fate and they celebrate it on January 2. In Georgian, the day is called Bedoba, where everyone tries to make the best out of this day by doing everything they enjoy in order for it to have an effect on the year ahead. So basically, everyone spends this day among family, friends, and loved ones in happiness and joy.
Georgians even have their own Christmas tree
Along with traditional, green Christmas tree, Georgians like to put up Chichilaki. It is made from the hazelnut tree branches,which are shaved in order to have curly strings and look like a coniferous tree. Usually, Chichilaki is adorned with flowers and dried fruit instead of sparkly ornaments. It’s relatively small too compared to the green one. When the festive days are over, the tree needs to be burnt as a symbolic expression to leave the misfortunes of the past year in the past.