The summer holidays
If you are doused with a bucket of water on a summer day in Yerevan, don't assume that you are under personal attack! You are now simply another participant in Vardavar, an Armenian holiday!
The precise date is fixed according to the Church calendar and varies from year to year. Being 14 weeks after Easter, it usually falls in July. Vardevar nowadays commemorates the Transfiguration, the incident described in St Matthew's Gospel, when Christ took three disciples up Mount Sinai where his appearance was transfigured as he talked with Moses and Elijah. Its origins, however, are pre-Christian: Vardevar was formerly associated with Aphrodite (Anahit) and rose petals were scattered on the worshippers. (Vard is the Armenian word for 'rose'.)
Nowadays in place of rose petals the festival involves children collecting water, stalking passers-by, and then throwing it over them. That the more water-affluent children will have managed to stockpile many buckets-worth means that nobody that day should wear smart clothes or indeed any clothes which might be damaged by water. Inevitably Vardevar is therefore a risky day to get married. It is also most unwise, despite the temperature in summer, to drive around with car windows open unless certain that no children are lurking out of sight behind a tree or wall. Adults can and do retaliate against the water throwers, for example by using their own stockpiled supplies to effect revenge on the miscreants below by aiming at them from the safety of the balconies of their apartments. Armenia is not the only country to have such a festival - Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) both have similar festivals to celebrate the Buddhist New Year. In Poland and Hungary water throwing is practised on Easter Monday when the boys throw it on the girls - the more gallant married men spray perfume on their wives but this variant has not yet reached Armenia.
Vardavar today is an opportunity to rattle water buckets and look for somebody to soak. No one is exempt, even those who believe they are protected by being in a car or taxi. If you do get splashed, don't be offended. It's just one day a year, and usually a hot one, so take it as it's meant, in the spirit of good fun.
First Day of the Republic and Independence Day
Technically, Armenia has two Independence Days. The public holiday known as the First Day of the Republic is celebrated on May 28, and marks the formation of the First Armenian Republic in 1918. Although this republic was short-lived, it was significant in that it inspired Armenians with the hope of reestablishing their own nation.
A bigger public holiday is Independence Day, on September 21, the date in 1991 when Armenians overwhelmingly voted to secede from the declining Soviet Union. Two days later, Armenia's first post-Communist parliament formally declared independence.
Since 1991, Independence Day has taken on varied levels of celebration. At first, the country was too preoccupied with war and shortages to do much celebrating. However, in recent years, Armenians have begun marking it with parades, film festivals, concerts, and fireworks displays. As usual on a day off work, people also celebrate with family gatherings.
Other Significant Government Holidays
May 1, Armenians celebrate Labor Day with a public holiday.
On May 9, the Second World War is commemorated with Victory and Peace Day. This day was an official holiday throughout the Soviet Union and is still regarded as a significant day in Armenia. Typically, it is a time to remember those who fought in the war.
July 5 is Constitution Day, another public holiday. The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia was adopted through a national referendum on July 5, 1995.
On December 7, Armenians honor those who perished in the 1988 earthquake with a Day of Remembrance. This is not a public holiday, but it is common to see memorial ceremonies taking place throughout the country on this day.
Fireworks in Yerevan
In the summer, almost every night is marked by a fireworks display in the city center, usually occurring after 10:00 p.m. at the conclusion of the "dancing fountains" at Republic Square. For newcomers, these late-night fireworks commemorating no particular holiday can be a bit disconcerting when one hears loud explosions in the sky, but this is just everyday life in the summer. Be prepared for a very loud display on Independence Day, starting around midnight.
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