The winter holidays
The Armenian Church follows the old Julian calendar (devised in 46 все), not the reformed Christian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This means that Western visitors may find their usual festivities reversed, as New Year's Day is celebrated before the Armenian Christmas, which is the culmination of the activities of the holiday season.
In recent years, however, the holiday season has started a little earlier, with the additional celebration of Western Christmas on December 25. A large metal tree with the colors of the Armenian flag is now erected in Republic Square by mid-December, and stores often put up their decorations around this time. You will even see a few Santa Clauses waving at crowds in front of stores in downtown Yerevan. On the actual December 25 date, some Armenians get together with family and friends.
In Armenia, as in all Eastern churches, Christmas (which falls on 6 January) is celebrated after New Year. In fact the two weeks from 31 December are a period of continuous family and church-centred celebration.
Armenian Christmas is a more sedate celebration with family and, for some, a church service. On Christmas Eve, January 5, traditional families light lanterns and attend church, where the divine liturgy is celebrated and holy communion is received. They bring home a church candle to fill their homes with divine light.
On the morning of January 6, traditional families attend church again. A large basin of water is put in front of the altar, and a cross is submerged in the water to symbolize Christ's baptism. The congregation then approaches the basin and takes some holy water home with them.
For one week following Christmas (until January 13), every day is still considered part of the celebration. Friends and relatives continue to visit each other's homes and greet one another. Some greetings you may hear include, Tzezyev mes medz avedis (To everyone, the good news), Krisdos dzunavyev haydnetsav (Christ is born and revealed among us), and Orhnial eh haydnootiunun Krisdosee (Blessed are the revelations of Christ). On January 13, the holidays, both Diasporan and native Armenian, officially come to an end.
If you are planning any type of business dealings during the holiday period, remember that Armenians take their New Year's and Christmas celebrations seriously. Both January 1 and 6 are state holidays, so businesses are closed. Also, throughout the holiday period, it is almost unheard of not to spend this time with family and friends, so there isn't a lot of business done. However, even if you don't accomplish your business goals, the chances are that you will be invited to someone's home for a great Armenian meal.
If you have any questions about travel to Armenia (visa, hotels, guide services, transportation), please feel free to contact us at any time and we will gladly answer your questions.
The New Year
Things really start hopping in the few days before New Year's Day. This is when households prepare for the massive feasts ahead. In the past, these were days of intense food preparation, and it was not uncommon for a household to bake as many as a dozen different types of pastry. However, economic growth has brought more conveniences, and now it is common to see people frantically shopping for food during these preparatory clays. You will also see crowded beauty salons as women prepare for the parties ahead. Very wealthy families go to the ski resort Tsakhkadzor, which is almost fully booked for New Year by October.
Food, especially family meals, forms the important focus of the festivities. For three days before New Year's Eve so much food is prepared that you would think there was going to be a two-month siege! Everyone wants to make sure that there are generous helpings for all the extended family members who will visit. Some say that the New Year celebrations have also become more lavish. As recently as the 1990s, the Armenian New Year celebration was a quiet family meal at home, followed by local or Russian television as the evening's entertainment. Today, there are not only piles of food, but also gifts— apples and coins for traditionalists and more extravagant items for contemporary families involved in the celebration. And for some, the New Year means celebratory meals in restaurants. Presents are given on New Year's Eve rather than at Christmas and it is Kaghand Papi, Grandfather Kaghand, who brings them for small children.
For those who stick to tradition, there are certain rituals to perform on New Year's Eve. At midnight, lights in the home are extinguished and the family recites the Lord's Prayer together. Then all lights are switched back on and the home is made as bright as possible. Family members partake in a bowl of anushabour, a thick, sweet soup made of wheat, sugar, and dried fruit.
In the weeks before New Year the shops are busy with people shopping - principally for food although also for presents. Everyone visits everyone else. Even if your aunt has visited you one day, you will still go and see her the next. On New Year's Eve a large piece of meat is cooked, often roast leg of pork, as well as numerous accompanying dishes and desserts, in preparation for visitors who start to arrive after the midnight bells. Both the birth of Jesus and his baptism are remembered on 6 January. At the church service water is blessed, consecrated oil (chrism or, in Armenian, meron) is poured into the water and a Cross is dipped into the water to symbolise Christ's baptism. This water is then distributed to the faithful who will either drink it or wash their hands and faces in it.
New Year's Day is the time to dress up, buy new clothes for the children, and get out the best plates and silverware. Families both contemporary and traditional welcome as many guests as possible to their homes and try to make as many visits to other homes as they can. Some even keep the doors to their houses open during this day to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome. There's also a flurry of phone calls and SMS messages from well-wishers.
This is definitely not a time to think about one's waistline, as food plays a very big role. On the doorsteps on New Year's Day, you will see purposely broken pomegranates with seeds and pulp lying strewn about the pavement. This is a symbol of hope for abundance in the coming year. Indoors, tables are laden with fruits, grilled meats and fish, candy, and cakes, for guests to enjoy as they come and go. Armenians believe that the more food there is, and the more guests eating it, the better the year ahead will be.