Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Special on Aisle Armenia

The holiday season is upon us once again. And, as this is my first holiday season in Armenia, I’ll do my best to catalogue my experience with Armenian culture during such a typically happy and culturally unique time of the year.

Religious Holidays
The Republic of Armenia is, officially, a Christian nation. In fact, they were the first country in the world to declare Christianity as their national religion, and they did this in 301 (AD of course). They have their own church, which is called Apostolic Armenian Orthodox. (This means homogeny, once again…surprise. So, if you were hoping for Hanukah, Kwanza, or really, anything other than Christmas, don’t hold your breath. It’s simply not tolerated.) Over the years, and based on who has been in control of this region of the world, Armenia has had to make a few concessions when it comes to faith. The most recent example of such concessions would be during Soviet rule (ended officially in 1992) when all religion was ousted from Armenia. But, if you ask the Armenian people, their faith never really died. In fact, the church is currently taking on massive efforts to re-educate Armenians about the church because for so long, nothing related to religion was allowed. Much of this re-education process comes from Armenian priests who live overseas. The church currently has a recall on all of these priests to come back to Armenia for a one year period of time (in rotation of course) to reconnect with the country. Countless priests will come from the states. But, getting back to a more pointed focus…

Armenia has a different church calendar than the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations in the rest of the world. And, within this calendar, Christmas falls on January 6. And, it seems that the holiday’s celebration is masked, in a large share, by the magnitude of excitement that consumes the country in respect to New Year’s. I would guess that a part of the belittlement that has befallen the celebratory practices of Christmas is due to the Soviet attempts to minimize religious traditions.

New Year’s
In the states we all get excited for a wild bash on New Year’s Eve. But here, the actual tick of the second hand at the stroke of midnight is not really that important. There is a message from the high priest, followed by a message from the president broadcast on national television. But, the parties don’t start until January first. Certainly people stay awake for this nocturnal moment, but the party leading up to it is usually small and restricted to family. But that’s alright, because starting on January first, every home will have a massive table laid out for all of the neighbors, friends, and family to pillage. Essentially, it is a non-stop feast with traditional foods such as dolma, kyufta, pastries, cognac, vodka, dolma, and cognac. And these parties will last until January 6. It’s wild.

Santa who?
Yes, Santa Claus does exist here, but he goes by another alias…that crafty s.o.b. Here he is called something in Armenian that I can’t type because I have a western keyboard…and because dollars to doughnuts, you don’t speak Armenian. But, the literal translation of his name is “Winter Father”. And he comes to give presents to boys and girls who have been well behaved. But, they don’t have fireplaces here, just free standing wood stoves. Now, I haven’t asked, but I’m assuming that this means he has to forcibly enter the front doors to all of the homes. None of that sneaking around on rooftops like some kind of morbidly obese, red nosed burglar stuff. Also, because I’m the only man in Armenia who has a red coat (men only wears black or dark brown here) I now confuse a bunch of small children, which is fun for me.

What did I do?
With my English club, I helped the students practice and perform the Christmas pageant, many different carols, and a few different poems. I have it on disc, and if you’re lucky enough to be my friend, next time I come back we can watch it. For Christmas I went up to Gyumri where I spent time with several other volunteers. We had a potluck Christmas feast that had a massive turkey, tons of different salads, and lots of pies. I made mulled wine for the party. We also had a gift exchange. I got an air horn. Now I can finally honk back at the cars (and mule carts for that matter). I stayed in the city for a few days, and then went back to my village. But, for New Year’s Eve I went back into the Charentsavan/Bjni area where I visited other volunteers and my first host family. While there, we had a massive snow storm (see picture). Although it made any form of transportation unreliable and risky, I was incredibly impressed with the absolute beauty of the village covered in snow. Until now, I had only seen it in the summer time, but this trip afforded me to see its winter views.

General update
As for life in my village, work has come to a halt. We will not go back to school until the end of January, possibly February. The village doesn’t have gas, which means we have no heat. So, if you’re quick, you’ve figured out that this means that we can’t heat the schools. So, I get a month off. Neat. Ultimately what this does is give me ample time to make my new apartment liveable. It has no water or heat, but that’s ok. There’s a well outside, and I have blankets. The real pain is that there are no counters or elevated surfaces of any kind anywhere in the place. This makes food preparation incredibly difficult. In the states, I’d just go get some wood and build a counter or two, maybe a bookcase. But here, that’ infinitely more difficult because there is simply nothing to buy. So, I’m currently using the floor as my counter. I hope to have pictures of my new digs up at some point, but I can’t say when that will actually happen. Until now, I hope this update sates you.

German: still at large

1 comment:

Alli said...

Glad to hear you're getting to celebrate the holidays Armenian-style. I myself had my first Georgian New Year! Whoo, what a blast. Just like for you, the Dec 31 to Jan 1 party wasn't that big - the big feasting started New Year's afternoon. When my Georgian pal and I arrived at his parents' house at about 2 PM, I was immediately plied with homemade wine (to go with my breakfast), and despite my mild hangover from the night before, I quaffed away. I was able to successfully decline the vodka, however. I just can't drink that early in the afternoon.

Do you at least have an electric heater you can plug in to warm you up during the day? Electric heaters and wood stoves are the way to go, I hear.

Hope your new apartment is getting cozier by the day, and that you soon have some sort of counter space or a table or something. Doesn't anyone have a table they could loan you?

Stay warm and keep busy!