Kazakhstan currently celebrates the following public holidays:
|7||January||Russian Orthodox Christmas|
|8||March||International Women's Day|
|1||May||Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan|
The Islamic festival of Kurban Ait, whose dates are determined by the lunar calendar and which therefore vary from year to year, is also a public holiday.
The most interesting public holiday from the perspective of visitors to Kazakhstan is Nauryz, a festival with deep-seated roots, held throughout the region on or close to the vernal equinox, which commemorates the arrival of spring. 'Nauryz' is itself translated as 'new day' in languages related to Farsi, and it is traditionally the occasion for a 'spring clean' of the home. Debts are supposed to be paid in time for Nauryz, and quarrels resolved. Regarded by the Soviet authorities as an anachronism, it was restored as a public holiday in 1988. The numerous traditions involving Nauryz involve the preparation of a milky-coloured thick soup named nauryz-kozhe. This is made differently in different parts of Kazakhstan, but the essential requirement is that it must use seven ingredients: for example, sour milk, water, meat, salt, butter, flour and millet. By tradition it should be consumed on the day in seven different homes. Other Kazakh specialities, such as the sweet dish zhent, are also frequently served at Nauryz.
The Nauryz festival is traditionally the occasion for competitions of different kinds, including games on horseback, such as kokpar, kyz kuu and alaman baiga, wrestling competitions and aityses, poetry duels between dombra- strumming akyns. Modern-day Nauryz competitions sometimes include such variants as the making of the largest baursak, or doughnut, and an award for the best-presented yurt. The act of swinging on a large swing, an altybakan, is also associated with Nauryz. At the end of the day you should fill all your vessels at home with spring water, grain or milk to ensure that your prosperity does not desert you. At Nauryz, yurts are set up at the central squares of many Kazakh cities, with competitions and performances of traditional songs and dances held in the squares. It is also worth asking about any programmes of traditional Kazakh horse games, which may be held at the town race track.
The two religious holidays, Russian Orthodox Christmas and Kurban Ait, were formally declared public holidays in 2006: it is characteristic of the determination President Nazarbaev has shown to display even-handedness between the main religious and ethnic minority groups in Kazakhstan that he simultaneously awarded public-holiday status to one Christian festival and one Islamic one. Kurban Ait is the festival known in some other parts of the Islamic world as Eid al-Adha, commemorating the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son when commanded to do so by Allah. Families who have the money to do so should on this day sacrifice an animal, giving a large proportion of the meat to poor families, and using the rest for a holiday meal.
Three of the public holidays mark important events in the calendar of post- independent Kazakhstan. Republic Day commemorates the adoption on 25 October 1990 of the declaration of state sovereignty by the supreme representative body of the Kazakhstan Soviet Socialist Republic, Independence Day the adoption by the Kazakhstan parliament on 16 December 1991 of the law establishing independence (16 December also marks the anniversary of the 1986 Zheltoksan demonstrations in Almaty), and Constitution Day the adoption of the 1995 Constitution on 30 August that year. There are few specific activities of touristic interest associated with these days, though they may be marked by concerts and possibly firework displays in the main squares of the largest cities.
Other holidays are survivals from the Soviet period. Victory Day celebrates the defeat of Nazism in 1945, and recognises the sacrifices of those who helped secure it. Commemorations centre on wreath layings at war memorials, but in larger cities may be more elaborate, even including battle re-enactments. International Women's Day, a popular holiday throughout the former Soviet Union, is the occasion for giving presents to, and generally feting, women. New Year's Day is a kind of national sleep-in, following the all-night partying on New Year's Eve. The 1 May was in the Soviet period the International Workers' Solidarity Day. Kazakhstan has kept the date but changed the purpose: as the Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan it is now a celebration of the ethnic diversity of the country.
Note that, where a holiday falls close to a weekend, the Kazakhstan government often re-jigs the weekend completely, to create a three-day break. Thus if a public holiday falls on a Thursday, it is likely that the government will announce Friday as a day off too, but declare the following Sunday, in compensation, as a working day. Those planning business meetings should note that such announcements have in the past sometimes been made only a few days in advance.