Christmas and New Year traditions in Georgia

by Nancy Kikvadze

Like the parts of Georgia, the traditions are diverse and interesting. New Year's rituals are different in Georgia, though the purpose of each is the same.

According to tradition, the festivities should be celebrated so that the New Year brings happiness, health, wealth and joy to each family.


In Kartli, the Basila sculpture is cooked first, with two "twists of fate" for each member of the family and the pets. At dawn, the head of the family lays a pig on a hunchback, decorates the "twists of fate" around it and rests on the statue of Basila. On one part of the “khoncha” (wooden platter), he pours the breadcrumbs of honey into the jar, "jam" and fills the burning candles. In Kartli, this New Year's “khoncha” is called "Abramian".


In Kartli and Kakheti, for the New Year, people have toasted bread, and they call it “Nazuqebi”. Each member of the family should be served one bread. On New Year's Eve, everyone packs their own “Nazuqi”. On New Year's Eve, “churchkhelas”, chives, and pork chops are served on the fridge and served with vodka and wine. At dawn the head of the family goes outside and walks round the house three times. While returning home, he congratulates family members on New Year's Eve and gives everyone one loaf of specially prepared bread.


Imereti is distinguished from other parts of Georgia with its cuisine and delicious dishes, this is most evident on New Year's table. Before coming of the trail-blazer, the head of the family will go round the house three times with a “Khoncha” full of food and fruits and the Lord will demand multiplication, health, good harvest and fortune. There are pork belly, barbeque, boiled hen, khachapuri, lobiani, ginger bread and sweet scones on the “khoncha”.


In Guria, as well as in Samegrelo, Christmas and New Year are called "Kalandoba". The New Year definitely feeds on pigs, baked gurian gingerbreads, with cheese and eggs, Nazuqebi, roasted “kupati”, “Satsivi”. The main attribute of “Kalandoba” is "chichilaki", which must be decorated. In New Year in Guria, the head of the family congratulates the family. As soon as the New Year comes, he will first visit the wine cellar and the barn, then enter the house with red wine and bless the country and family. On New Year's Eve in Guria, people, especially, children who sing traditional song “Alilo” go and sing, collecting sweets, money and fruit.

The most traditional gurian village of Basileti, where the first chichilaki was made, was waiting for the New Year peculiarly. Tradition was not broken in the village, and there was a chichilaki on the table, which was, as they say, like St. Basil's beard.

The Chichilaki dandelion is the sun rays of “Kalandoba”. Chichilaki itself is the sun. The Chichilaki was embelished with a cross, and was paved with the plush. The Gurians knew that one of the supreme gods of Olympus had overwhelmed Dionysus in order not to be burned in the fire of his enemies. The plush surrounding the Chichilaki, was bringing luck to the family’s dampness and life.


In Samegrelo the New Year is called "Kalandoba" and is met with the shots of a rifle. In the morning of the New Year, the head of the family goes out of the house, holds a decorated “Chichilaki” in his hands and performs a ritual, after which he enters the house, lands “Chichilaki” in the corner and sits at the New Year table with pork, “Khachapuri”, fruit and other food. Before breakfast, the New Year first visitor "sweet ageing" all the family members with sweets.

In Samegrelo, “Chichilaki”, made by hazelnut, is decorated with cotton and toys, and they put fruit and sweets, cooked pumpkin, “khachapuri”, “felamushi” and wine near it. In Samegrelo, the New Year first visitor is chosen with great caution and the family is carefully preparing to meet him.


In Adjara “Achma” and “Baqlava” are the necessary attributes of New Year's table. Throughout Georgia Cereals, and especially wheat are considered to be a symbol of fertility and good fortune, so in Adjara, crops are being thrown around the room and prayed for.


In Racha New Year celebration is very special. For the New Year they bake two "bachuli", one for the new year and the other for the old one. The housewives definitely bake a human-faced “Man-Basila”and a big loaf of "Keria-beria", which is coloured with the different faces. The head of the family will put these cakes on a table and keep them in the barn. In the morning, during the first crowing of the cock, "Makvrieli", or “Mekvle” (New Year first visitor), will light a fire. Then he goes outside, stabs the “nekeri”, grabs “Chichilaki” and enters the barn. Then he will come home with a prayer: “I stapped in, God bless you!. Happy New Yearof acquiring and profit, peace and well-being, having a baby son, more wine, abundance, ”and then go to bring the water. Everyone gets up before his return. “Mekvle” helps them to wash their faces and hands. At the breakfast, all members of the family will receive his "Keria-Beria".

“Mekvle” is blessing the family with wonderful words:“May Saint George, cover you with more power! May Saint Khotevi and Nikortsminda extend you! Agara and Ugheshi, May God give you a comfort. " If the “Mekvle” is good erring by the family, he will be elected for another three years. During these three years, “Mekvle” first congratulates the family with New Year by a wine jar, boiled ham, roasted chickens, small coins hidden in the apple, “Chichilaki” and a candle in a hand. He blesses the family, “Sabdzeli”, “Nalia”(Storage hut), and then marry-meeting begins. New Year's table in Racha is decorated with “Lobiani”, wine, ham, honey, nuts, “Tklapi”, dried fruits and apples.


The tradition of “Mekvle” is also important in Svaneti. On New Year's Eve, the Swans will pack up a variety of storage in “gideli” (plaited with the cane and clapboard, “earless” vessels) and hang them on the front doors of the house to get ready for the “Mekvle”. The “Mekvle” will knock on the door with their local dialect: "Open the door! I’m bringing God’s and King’s mercy, open the door for me." , While entering home, he will go round the fireplace three times, he will put the sweets and silver coins on the big bread with the cross, go to every senior and junior member of the familyand congratulate them a holiday.

On New Year's Eve, in Svaneti, they avoid to go for a visit.

Meat has an important place on the Svans’ Christmas table. Here Christmas is not celebrated without slaughter. A Calf, an ox is slaughtered, but most of all-a pig. There must be “Kubdari”, Khachapuri, Pkhali and millet on the Christmas table.

They traditionally boil a calf or a heifer’s shoulder, make pork “Kupati” and “Ziskhora”, which is an ancient Svan dish.


The New Year is called "NeYear" in the khevsuris local dialect and is met with great preparation. Families are distilling New Year's vodka, iconic cooks brewing beer. The hostess bakes New Year round loafs. The loaf for “Mekvle” is the largest, depicting a cross, a man, a ploughshare, a bull, a cow, a horse, barley, and more. During the baking the loaf for “Mekvle”, they are looking at it and whichever image it raises, that year will be wealthy. Then, for all the members of the family, the housewife bakes the "breads of fate", each with their sign and whose bread will rise during the baking, she or he is about to be fateful and fortunate. In the New Year, men gather in the shrine and here in the shrine’s hall, they spend time, in drinking and merry-making.

Author: David Chubinidze


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