What Kazakhstan chiefly celebrates on the national holidays is their recent history-and with that recent history, shifts of history and heroism of long ago.
Which festival takes precedence? The Kazakhs' Day of Independence, December 16, is of course a national holiday. Both that day and the Day of the Republic, October 25, likewise a holiday, are celebrated in the central square of every city and every small town, with parades and bunting. Independence Day also recalls the critical events of December 1986, when thousands of young people massed in Almaty in protest at Russia's appointment of a non-Kazakh to take charge of their country, and a few were martyred. That event bites deep into popular memory.
Then there is the traditional New Year of the Steppe-dwellers - Nauryz, on March 22, when the big melt should have started. Nauryz can upstage Mayday - Europe's ancient pagan spring festival on May 1, which Lenin successfully appropriated as a kind of international Workers' Day, and is today designated 'Day of Unity of the People of Kazakhstan', with an ethnic unity implied. Lastly, there is Constitution Day.
At all such celebrations, the people caparison themselves in traditional costume. Yurts appear in the squares, and low dining tables, and dastarkhans - long tables laden with good Kazakh things to eat and drink, horseflesh and kumys... and musicians playing all the old instruments, the dombra and the kobyz and all the percussion. There are the equestrian contests, and fairground tests of strength and of accuracy with a rifle.
On all these days Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities - Russians, Uighurs, Koreans, Greeks, Ukrainians, Germans and all-celebrate alongside the host community, in their own manner and with their own symbols.