The Georgian holidays: what you need to know. ქართული არდადეგები: რა უნდა იცოდეთ

The Georgian holidays: what you need to know. ქართული არდადეგები: რა უნდა იცოდეთ
25 December 2014

The long-awaited holidays are just around the corner with a sackful of new experiences, plans and surprises for us all. If you are familiar with Georgian culture, it will be no surprise to hear that the Georgians can- and do- turn any holiday celebration into a feast, involving all family members and friends. Nonetheless, the main winter events, New Year and Christmas (celebrated on Jan. 1st and 7th respectively), are still beyond comparison and worthy of your special attention. Throughout the last few years even tourists have started to show their interest in celebrating the festive holidays in the country, quite fairly referred to as the pearl of the Caucasus.

If you are about to celebrate your winter holidays here, plan ahead and be prepared to experience not only a new atmosphere, but a number of new surprises and emotions, too. The celebration of the winter holidays in Georgia lasts for around two weeks and has a unique Georgian spirit. We advise you to allow adequate time for your winter break, though, since your hosts will probably not let you leave the table until you have tried all the dishes and drunk all the wine offered. In short, the feasting alone takes up a lot of time! And the feasting is but a small part of what makes a Georgian Christmas.

The Decor

If you are celebrating your holidays at a Georgian friend’s house, the first thing that might strike you as strange is the nut wood twig with long fluffy shavings decorating the most dominant spot in the house, perhaps alongside the more familiar fir. The twig is called achichilaki. And while it does not permeate the entire room with the nice fresh pine aroma that fir does, it certainly serves as an interesting decorative feature and, for the Georgians, serves as a symbol of life and hope. A chichilaki is usually decorated with an assortment of fruits, berries, and flowers as offerings to heaven for a bountiful harvest. Chichilakis are not a year-round Christmas symbol, however, as people ceremoniously burn them on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany on January 19, believing that the smoke takes away all the misfortunes of the year.

New Year

The chain of celebrations usually starts off on New Year’s Eve, with the festive table laden to breaking point with the most delicious homemade food, beautifully and richly presented, an abundance of various fruits, freshly picked vegetables, nuts and homemade sweets. The New Year feast will often include a piglet roasted in the local tone (bread) oven (pork is considered a symbol of prosperity), satzivi (a Georgian dish traditionally consisting of walnut sauce and chicken) and a wide choice of desserts to symbolize the hope for a sweet year ahead. Of course not a single celebration occurs without that wonderful homemade wine, accompanied by a number of eloquent toasts and famous polyphonic singing. At midnight, Georgians, like most of the rest of the world, welcome the New Year with loud and colourful fireworks, following the ancient belief that fireworks chase away evil spirits. This is also the time when Santa Claus, or his Georgian equivalent Tovlis Babua, travels from house to house leaving gifts under the Christmas tree for kids who have been good.

Happy Feet

As the New Year begins, there comes the time of a special Georgian tradition, mekvele. Georgians believe that the first guest “with happy feet” who crosses the threshold of the house will bring joy and prosperity to the family. The mekvele is welcomed with a basket of delicacies in exchange for the candies s/he brings to the family to make the upcoming year sweet. The guest is usually either selected in advance from a circle of close friends or is sometimes taken on by a family member who leaves the room and reappears again, bringing happiness and joy.

Day of Luck, or Start As You Mean To Go On

After a brief pause in the drinking and feasting, January 2nd is near at hand. Bedoba, or Day of Luck determines how good the year will be. As if such an excuse is needed, Georgians tend to have as much fun on Bedoba as possible in order to guarantee a prosperous and joyful year.


Once the New Year has been welcomed, celebrated and honoured, there follows another holiday, Christmas, also occupying a special place in the hearts and souls of Georgians. The Georgian Christmas is traditionally celebrated from the evening of January 6th with Orthodox Christian devotees attending a festive public service that lasts all night. After the service is over, Georgians continue the celebration at home, lighting candles and sitting at the holiday table once more, this time with even more delicacies, since for many Georgians the birth of Christ symbolizes the end of the fasting period. The next morning, the 7th, is marked by a special Alilo procession, during which clergymen walk along the streets carrying icons, crosses, and flags, followed by Christians of all ages. Children dressed in white usually lead the procession, symbolizing angels on foot. As the ceremony proceeds, the participants collect donations and gifts to be given to orphanages and people in need. In the end, believers unite at Sameba (the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) to accept the congratulations of the Patriarch of All Georgia on Christmas.

Old New Year

Not done yet…because then comes the Old New Year, which, as paradoxical as its name may sound, finally concludes the winter celebrations. This holiday, celebrated on January 14, marks the New Year according to the old Julian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one which the world officially uses today. It is a tradition observed by the majority of Georgians, many of whom do not even take the Christmas tree down before this date. The Old New Year is celebrated in a similar way to the regular New Year: with a festive table, an abundance of wine, and getting together joyful and friendly people to start the year as they mean it to go on.

Ekaterine Tchelidze