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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Georgian Holidays


Barbaroba, or St. Barbara's Day, which falls on December 4th, may or may not mark the beginning of the holiday season. If it does, it's because it is the first feast of the month. You see, Georgians exploit any possible opportunity to indulge in the joie de vivre of eating and drinking big, and as New Year's Eve approaches, the intensity of satiation increases.

While a family may spend large sums of money on a restaurant banquet or a home cooked feast, they do not go into debt to prove their love by buying junk nobody really needs. Jesus can look down from heaven and be pleased that the Georgians have not blasphemed his name by turning it into some gazillion dollar consumer phantasm where people are compelled to feel inadequate if they don't go along with the program or labeled scrooges if they dissent of such artificiality. The holiday season is the most lively time of the year and you can enjoy it fully without ever having to step into a shopping mall or sing We Three Kings.

In lieu of the mall, Tbilisi has vogzal bazroba (the central bazaar) the last place you ever want to drive to this time of year. While always anarchic, during the winter holidays bazroba is absolute bedlam as swarms of people elbow their way through swarms of people haggling over mountains of shelled walnuts, fish, chicken and piglet carcasses and every imaginable seasonal fruit and vegetable; fresh, dried or otherwise. People consume natural homegrown food products, not plastics. Much of the waste will even feed Tbilisi's stray animal population.

This is not to say the symbolic act of gift giving is ignored, for on New Year's Eve (the December one), gifts are modestly exchanged and Georgian Santa Claus - Tovlis Babya - arrives that night with a present for each kiddie. December 31st is the big bash, ordinarily celebrated at home with family and close friends until midnight, when many people continue their festivities elsewhere till the morning hours. Rustaveli Avenue, the city's main drag, is blocked off and a stage or two or three may be set up with musicians performing in the freezing temperatures while people stroll up and down the street swigging champagne from the bottle and dodging fireworks aimed at the face.

The New Year's day is spent at a relative, neighbor or friend's house, working on the previous night's leftovers, inevitably washed down with more toasts. For the next two weeks, Tbilisi closes down for an extended binge.

Technically, being a good Georgian Orthodox Christian means one should fast through this period of gluttony, but Georgians for the most part make an exception for the holiday season. Nevertheless, on December 7th, Georgians will attend mass to commemorate Jesus' birthday according to the Julian (Orthodox) calendar. Mass is preceded by a feast of course, although it is nothing on the scale of New Year's or the western Xmas dinner.

Butterball turkeys can be found, but only foreigners buy them. The standard holiday fare is Satsivi – chicken in walnut sauce. Chicken is often substituted with fish or Georgian turkey, which Americans may find hard to recognize as they are not plastic wrapped and have not been injected by a slew of hormones or fed nuclear pellets. Piglets are also a tasty seasonal treat, particularly if they have been taken to the baker to roast in the tone – traditional oven.

January 14th is the old New Year and the last party of the season. Tovlis Babya has long returned to his igloo on the North Pole and it is safe to drive to bazroba. It is when I take the lights off our Christmas tree and hang them somewhere else in the house. And like the rest of Georgia, it is when I consider it about time to get back to work.

(For my cousin Ken, who asked how the holidays were celebrated here)


sally said...

excellent experiance is not it?
are you still in Georgia?

sally said...

it is absolutley amaising is not it.
are you still in Tbilisi?

paul rimple said...

well... It is certainly a saturated experience. And yes, I am here in Tbilisi and have no plans to leave.

justyna said...

yes all that is true-and till today I thought that holiday season is over by 14th-but!-today I realized that 26 of January is Chinese New Year-so given the fact that it is also "observed" by Georgians- real work will start after 26.....:)

Anonymous said...

Rose: A long-standing symbol of purity, promise, and beauty. The rose symbol meanings deal with the promise of new beginnings and hope. We must also take the thorns into consideration - with the promise of new hope, we may have to endure a few stinging thorns (painful ordeals) along the way. Overall, the rose is a poignant symbol of the beauty that is ready to unfold within each of our hearts, and a reminder that we must take the opportunity to savor the beauty around us.

paul rimple said...

yeah, well that's pretty anonymous, but a rose is still a rose is still a rose...