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It used to be a time-honoured tradition for local residents of

Churchkhela (caramelized nuts)
Churchkhela (caramelized nuts)

KARTLI and KAKHETI, like many other parts of eastern Georgia, to sprinkle fresh spring water throughout their yards on New Year’s Eve. With the clock striking twelve, the head of the family or an invited First-Footer (one who first congratulates New Year) would appear on the threshold holding in one hand a dish groaning under the weight of vital provisions: two loaves of freshly baked bread, a piece of cheese, a chunk of meat, a jug of wine, Gozinaki (caramelized nuts), fruit (both fresh and dried), Churchkela (sweets made of grape juice and nuts) and cereals, and in the other - a live hen. The First-Footer would throw corn and barley grains generously over the threshold to encourage wealth and opulence and utter the words of prayer: may my foot usher in a year of peace, love and benevolence; may God grace your life with an abundance of newborn babies, bread and wine, fields and vineyards, flocks of sheep, herds of cows, welcome guests and devoted friends! Happy New Year!

Administrative map of Georgia

Administrative map of Georgia

The male head of an IMERETIAN family followed the tradition of moving thrice around his house in an anti-clockwise direction and beseeched God for health, wealth and the welfare of his offspring prior to the appearance of First-Footers or other welcome guests. The ceremony involved a tray heavily laden with a pig's head, grilled pork, boiled chicken, khachapuri (cheese pie), bean dumplings, wholemeal bread and sweet cookies and ended in front of a crackling log fire serving a very special purpose: early in the morning of New Year's Day, the eldest member of each family would strike a stick or a wooden bar against the blazing log thus causing a shower of sparks to fly off in all Khachapuri

Khachapuri (cheese pie)

 

directions and whisper a prayer: I wish as abundant a supply of gold, bread, wine, salt, cows and hens as these countless thousands of sparks.

New Year was termed Kalandoba in GURIA. The end of December in each family would be marked by the butchering of pigs and baking of savoury biscuits, cheesy egg cookies, cheese- pies, cakes, spicy sausages and Satsivi (a turkey dish) and, last but not least, by the decorating of Chichilaki (a Georgian New Year tree). The male head of a Gurian family would first of all offer up prayers in front of his Marani (wine cellar) and barn, and then he would enter the house and raise a glass of red wine proposing a toast to peace in his home and his country. On New Year Eve’s night, Alilo carolers (a charitable group) would go from door to door collecting sweets, fresh and dried fruit and silver coins from villagers. Sadgino (the toast) was the most widely popular song that matched the solemnity of the festive event.

New Year was indeed a special occasion in SAMEGRELO. Chichilaki made by trimming a hazelnut branch into shavings and decorated with cotton wool and toys added a sparkle to the festive holiday atmosphere. A large bowl of fruit, sweets, pieces of boiled pumpkin, Pelamushi  (boiled grape juice with nuts) and cheese-pie would be laid underneath the New Year tree and next to it - a jug of wine and a glass filled right up to the brim. Such perfectly festive dishes and Chichilaki were essential attributes of New Year celebrations for a whole week. A megrelian word for First-Footer is Mekuchkhe or Mekuchkhuri, whose selection was really thought out ahead of time by each family.

Chichilaki

Chichilaki

 

New Year dishes in RACHA included bean-pies, wine, ham, honey, walnuts, fruit cookies, dried fruit and apples. Each family would elect a First-Footer for a period of three years. The First- Footer would appear with a load of boiled ham, fried chicken, a jug of wine, a coin stuck in an apple, Chichilaki and a couple of candles. Prayers offered up for the host family, his bam and granary would end with the words: St. George bless you! May Barakoni and Nikortsminda churches bestow their blessings upon you! Peace and comfort be with you all! The ceremony would eventually evolve into a feast involving tambourine and accordion players providing music for a comic dance called “Oghro-Choghro” (bumpy road).

 

Satsivi (a turkey dish)
Satsivi (a turkey dish)

New Year celebrations in LECHKHUMI revolved around a ritual that required the male head of a family to wait with a tray in his hands until the chimes of midnight struck. The tray was loaded with a pig haunch, bean-pies displaying a number of lighted candles, a glass of wine, apples, pears, grapes and some dried fruit. After midnight, the grandfather with his youngest grandson would stroll to a vineyard and, a jug of wine in hand, would bless the grape harvest sprinkling wine throughout the area including the barn, granary and wine-cellar. Only afterwards would they wander back home and say a prayer for their family. The grandfather was assumed to be a First-Footer.

 

During the few days prior to New Year, SVANETIAN families would make cleanliness of their homes a top priority avoiding all kinds of visits and social occasions. A pig fattened up specifically to celebrate New Year would be slaughtered, breads embossed with crosses and sweet cookies - baked. Frost notwithstanding, the First-Footer had to stay outdoors all night to enter a designated house as clean as a new penny and bring the very best of luck to his host family. The head of the family would start work at the crack of dawn, first feeding the animals and then lighting candles and offering up prayers for his family.

 

New Year, known as Khichkhuama in ABKHAZIA, provided the perfect occasion for all family members to assemble in an ancestral home, break the seal of pitchers, bake a huge selection of nut and honey pastries and Abkhazia's own brand of bread - Abkhazura - and slaughter a number of cattle. The head of the family would then splash with wine some liver, kidney and lung of the butchered cattle and take the sacred food to a chapel before congratulating his kith and kin on the New Year.

 

A New Year's table in SAMACHABLO would be set with luscious dishes: cheese and potato pies, boiled butter, Gozinaki, Bazhe (walnut sauce), boiled chicken, pickles and wine. The child reputed to have the cleanest heart and hands would be nominated to act as a First- Footer. He or she would appear holding a bowl filled with sweets and potato-dumplings. The ceremony would be followed by inviting the neighbours around and a dancing show.

 

Gozinaki
Gozinaki (caramelized nuts)

KHEVI AND MTIULETI had a well-established tradition dictating that on New Year's morning the chief tribal elder would lead other elders to St. George's Church bearing a flag. On hearing the bells ring out, the elders would congratulate one another on the advent of New Year beseeching God for the peace and prosperity of their village. Then they would line up in an orderly row handing out food to a throng of people standing by. The chief tribal leader would be followed by a procession of believers singing paeans to eulogize St. George and St. George the Great Martyr. Cattle would be slaughtered and everyone would get into the swing of feasting, dancing and improvising.

The lead-up to New Year was very exciting for houses, recalling personal belongings from neighbours and baking cookies called Kharis Goga. Fortune and dowry cookies featuring various figures would be baked for each member of the family. The role of First-Footer would be assigned to a man distinguished for his generous heart, a good deal of luck and tremendous breadth of experience. At midnight sharp he would be met at the threshold by the male head of family and offered a Kharis Goga cookie. The First-Footer would roll it towards the hearth trying to make it land on the ground face up as a sign of good luck for the family. The solemn mission of the First-Footer, should he be unavailable, could be delegated to a dog because dogs had a reputation for being able to bring good luck. But it was an uphill task to lure a sheepdog into a house with the use of bait as unappealing as Kharis Goga. With dawn breaking across the sky, the head of the family would go outside, scoop up a handful of snow (called Katamkinuli by Tushes) and disperse it throughout the house with the words: May a snow-white beard grace you in your old age, may the grace, mercy and peace of our Lord abide with you, now and forever, may your life blossom with joy and sunshine, happiness...

 

PSHAVS AND KHEVSURS were known for their adherence to the centuries-old tradition mandating that all tribal elders parade on New Year's Eve to a chapel accompanied by a group of youngsters carrying an assortment of pastries, buttered bread and candles and leading a number of cattle fattened for slaughter. They would enter the stone- roofed chapel and spend all night in prayer. Before midnight, the chief elder would cut pastries into pieces, light candles and bless the praying parishioners, the village and its families. At the crack of dawn the chief elder would come out of the chapel to preside over the sacrifice of a sheep to the icon. He would then dip snowballs in blood and throw them towards the chapel wall in an attempt to exorcise evil spirits. At the request of the elders, young men would collect their caps and place them under a felt cloak.

Burme (nut and honey cake)

Burme (nut and honey cake)

 

The chief elder would then stir the caps and ask some of the youngsters to pull out one at random. The owner of the picked cap would assume the role of First-Footer for each family in the village. With prayers over, the villagers would go on a feasting spree, brewing beer, cooking meat dumplings and drinking Zhipitauri (home-distilled vodka). Bread, boiled butter, pickled asparagus and sweet pastries formed the staple New Year food.

 

The highlights of the New Year menu in SAINGILO included Halva (a paste of nuts, sugar and oil), sweet pastries, Gozinaki, rice pilau, honey, butter, bread and wine. At midnight, all family members would assemble around a dinner table waiting for a dog as First-Footer, for this very common four-legged animal was renowned as the most zealous protector of the family. The head of the family would then drink a toast inviting good fortune and bidding farewell to bad luck. A human First-Footer would appear only the next day. The ritual involved throwing a blend of wheat and rice at his feet as a means to swell the hen population and offering him a seat to prevent girls from becoming spinsters. The First-Footer would then raise a toast and join the feast.

Kaurma (cooked meat)

Kaurma (cooked meat)

Central to New Year celebrations in SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI was a fresh water ceremony used to mark the advent of this important holiday. The New Year morning would start by paying a special tribute to fresh water by sprinkling it throughout yards, barns and granaries. A wonderful selection of festive food including pastries, fresh and dried fruit, honey, butter, khavitsi (cheese fondue), potato dumplings, cheese-pies and wine from newly opened pitchers would be served to add a festive feel to the New Year table. Cookies (called Sabedo, Bani, Samekvleo and Kharis Kedi) were part of a prevailing New Year ritual officiated by throwing them from the roof of a house. A cookie falling on the hearth was a harbinger of joy, profit and abundance, while one rolling towards a door served as an omen of a lean harvest to come. With the ritual over, neighbours would get together and join their voices in singing “Mumli Mukhasa".

 

Acharian  khachaluri - cheese-pie with eggs

Acharian khachaluri - cheese-pie with eggs

 

n AJARA, New Year night provided a perfect occasion for bringing together the whole family around a festive table. The eldest male would allow the youngest, preferably a boy, to be the first to say a prayer for the wellbeing of his family. A newborn animal, if any, would be carried in a circle around the hearth. Fresh water as a symbol of purity, life and vitality would be brought in and sprinkled over the threshold. A cock would be let in and fed and then made to go round the hearth. Then delicious Kaurma (cooked meat),

, Halva, Kharcho (beef-walnut soup) and Burme (nut and honey cake) matched with wine, nuts and candle-wax vodka would be served to set the tone for the festive New Year celebrations. Women's sartorial appearance was centrally important and consisted, almost exclusively, of a red festive robe accessorized with a shawl, Kabalakh (hood) and a large cross inherited from the great-grandmother and worn as a symbol of utmost respect for Christian traditions whatever the vicissitudes of life. Each family would fire a musket known as a Machakhela as a good way to begin the New Year and let everyone know that life is still up and running

 

By Baya Sharashidze