Festivals & Holidays
Although weather, economic conditions, and a multitude of other factors can make life harsh in Armenia, very little prevents Armenians from celebrating their holidays. The problems of daily life are forgotten as holiday fever kicks in. And best of all, holidays are often a time for staging huge family events.
Interestingly, the Armenian holiday calendar includes both Christian and pagan festivals. Although many have theorized about why this mix still exists, the simplest explanation is that the early Christians were not known for fun and lively social interactions, whereas the pagans knew how to keep things merry with activities such as jumping over fire and dousing one's friends with buckets of water. Even the major Christian celebrations of Easter and Christmas retain colourful pagan customs from the pre-Christian past.
Of course, for the biggest fanfare, there are the life-event celebrations involving friends and family—baptisms, birthdays, and, most notably, weddings. Attending an Armenian wedding is to see the Armenian family in action. The highs and lows of family life are all there, as the seemingly endless celebration gets under way. It is said that an Armenian wedding is the entire Armenian experience in one momentous event.
ANNUAL PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
New Year’s Day 1 January
Christmas Day 6 January
International Women’s Day 8 March
Good Friday varies, from mid-March to late April
Motherhood and Beauty Day 7 April
Genocide Memorial Day 24 April
Victory Day 9 May
Republic Day 28 May
Constitution Day 5 July
Independence Day 21 September
Earthquake Memorial Day 7 December
Genocide Memorial Day and Earthquake Memorial Day are called 'commemoration days' rather than public holidays. On Genocide Memorial Day everything is shut as on a public holiday. Earthquake Memorial Day is now a working day, although with civic commemoration ceremonies.
December to April - Armenia has a full range of festivals, strongly Christian but intimately tied to the seasons, the land and folk traditions. The year ends (and kicks off) with Navasard (New Year’s). The pre-Christian New Year was on the first day of the month of Navasard (August). The Church fathers moved the date to 31 December, but the name carried over. Households bake cookies and the New Year bread, which contains a coin. Whoever finds it has good fortune coming. Surp Dzenount (Christmas) is held on 6 January, the Epiphany (baptism) of Jesus. Hymns and psalms ring out from churches, and water and myrrh are blessed – it’s sometimes called waterblessing day. Trndez (Purification) occurs 40 days after Christmas (16 February). Bonfires are lit and people leap over them for protection from the evil eye, illness and poisons. Trndez also signals the coming of spring.
Easter Season - Surp Sargis Don (St Sargis Day) falls nine weeks before Easter, between 18 January and 23 February. The handsome warrior saint may appear in the dreams of girls this night, wearing gold armour, to decide their fate – the man she dreams of who gives her water will be her husband. The 40 days of Lent before Easter is a fasting period with holidays such as Shrove-Tide, a good time for public celebrations. Tsarzardar (Palm Sunday), one week before Easter, is a proper spring celebration. Trees are brought into churches and hung with fruit. Zatik (Easter) falls between mid-March and mid-April, depending on the Church calendar. Households that planted lentil seeds 40 days earlier at the start of Lent lay red-painted eggs on the bed of green shoots on Easter Sunday.
May to November - Hambartsum (Ascension Day) is in May, 40 days after Easter. In the old days young women had the freedom to sing in the fields and socialise on this day. It’s also a festival of fate. At midnight, space and time pauses and nature speaks to itself. Witnesses to such a moment will have their dreams fulfilled.
The big summer holiday is the Vardavar (Transfiguration), which falls between mid-June and mid-July, when kids and teenagers throw water on everyone they can, and no one takes offence (much). It’s hilarious, but not a day for noncolourfast clothing. In pagan times this was the festival of the love goddess Astgik, when her love was spread by sprinkling petals and rose water on the ground. Astvatsatsin (Holiday of the Mother of God) in mid-August is when priests bless the grape and fruit harvests. Khatchverats (Holy Cross), falling on the Sunday closest to 14 September, is a day for commemorating the dead.
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