Armenian Traditions and Celebrations: Dzaghgazart (Palm Sunday)

Dzaghgazart, with the literal translation to English being “decorated with flowers”, is celebrated by Armenians around the world who follow the Christian Faith. The day has been declared to be the Day of Blessing the Children, in memory of the fact that during the entry of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, children were rejoicing and crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” On Palm Sunday, the Armenian Church remembers the multitude that welcomed with palms, olive branches and cries of Hosanna (Glory to God!). The Church is decorated with palms and olive branches, which are distributed to the worshipers. According to the doctrine of the fathers, throwing clothes in front of Jesus symbolized freeing oneself of sins, while giving branches as gifts was a symbol of honors and ceremonies. The olive branch was considered to be the symbol of wisdom, peace, victory and glory. Giving olive and date branches to Christ who resurrected the dead Ghazaros is the symbol of victory over death.Later in the day, the Armenian Church holds the “Opening of the Doors” (Trnpatsek) service, symbolic of our entrance into Heaven.

In reality, the celebration in Armenia predates Christianity. It was a day of worship dedicated to the resurrection of nature and directly connected to the legend of Ara the Beautiful. When Ara died by the hands of the Assyrian Queen Shamiram’s army, she placed him atop a mountain, beseeching the Aralez gods to lick his wounds and give him back his life. This signifies the rebirth in nature, a testimony to the power of the Heavens. The worship centered largely around the tree of life, known as the Genats tree, which was found to be the predecessor of the Poplar and Sosin trees. Sacred Altars to the Gods were erected among these trees, creating a grove and Godswood. The worship of the sacred trees was so paramount that when Christianity disallowed for the existence of such worship, names such as Sos, Sosi, Soseh, and Chinar came about instead. The pagan Arorti religion would continue on and still exists to this day.

One of the traditions that still exists to this day and is connected to the worship of the sacred trees representing the Tree of Life is the tying of colorful cloth to the branches as prayers and wishes and dreams are offered to the Heavens. Furthermore, the trees are decorates with eggs, as a symbol of life and fertility, a celebration of rebirth.

Another part of the worship was related to the goddess Nouri (Nar, Houri, Nvart), who reigned over the rainy weather and the fertility of the soil. She was turned into a doll with a rainbow belt after Christianity was adopted and forced onto the population. Children would run around with their dolls of Nouri and plates for donations. The people would gather and would dance and sing after sacrificing a lamb to the purity and generosity of Nouri.

-Նուրի-Նուրին էկել ա,

Շիլա-շաբիք հագել ա,

Կարմիր գոտին կապել ա,

Ձու բերեք թաթին դնենք,

Եղ բերենք` սրտին քսենք…

Սրտին քսել means to win over

 

Another version of the song is sung as such: 

-Նուրի-Նուրին էկել ա,

Դուռն ի դռան կանգնել ա,

Շալե շաբիք հագել ա,

Կեշմե գոտիք կապել ա,

Ձու բերեք, թաթը դնենք,

Եղ բերեք` վարսը քսենք,

Ջուր բերեք` գլխին ածենք,

Աստուծանե ցող թող գա,

Գետնիցը` պտուղ դուս գա…

Լուսանկարը` Նազիկ Արմենակյանի

 

Trnspatsek (Opening of the Doors) information: http://www.armenianchurch-ed.net/wpblog/tag/palm-sunday/

Ancient/Pagan traditions and information: http://ankakh.com/2012/04/193031/

Armenian Traditions: Birth of a Child

Traditionally (especially in rural areas) Armenian families have a lot of children. A birth of a child, especially a boy, is a happy event which has always been welcome. On church holidays in front of the house where a baby was born music played and the house was decorated with green branches – the symbol of family continuation. The child is not shown to anybody but the relatives for 40 days after birth.

At birth, children receive gifts, mainly jewelry (holly crosses, gold medallions, etc). The first male child often is named after his grandfather; the same may go for the first female child. The Armenian mothers closely watch and constantly provide care/food to their children. Feeding a boy with his favorite dish is important; he needs strength to grow.

It is accepted that a person having any happy life occasion puts his hand on a head of his friend or relative saying “tarose kes” (“I pass it to you” )- wishing them the same good luck.

Armenian Traditions- Christmas Celebrations

The Armenian Apostolic Church still uses the old ‘Julian’ Calendar. Thus, Christmas is celebrated on January 6th. The Christmas holiday season starts on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) and continues until the old Julian calendar’s New Year’s Eve on January 13th.

Some people do celebrate on December 25th, but Soorb Stepanos Day (St Steven’s day), not Christmas, unless, of course, they are Catholic. In most other countries St Stephen’s day is on December 26th or Boxing Day! In Armenian, Happy/Merry Christmas is Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund (Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ).

Historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6th until the fourth century. According to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6th to December 25th in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25th. At the time Christians used to continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine and subdue this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany. Armenia not being a satellite of Rome, was exempt from the change.

Traditionally, Armenians fast during the week leading up to Christmas. Devout Armenians may even refrain from food for the three days leading up to the Christmas Eve, in order to receive the Eucharist on a “pure” stomach.

Santa Claus/Gaghant Baba / Kaghand Papa traditionally comes on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) because Christmas Day itself is thought of as more of a religious holiday in Armenia. People believed that the doors of other “worlds” would open on December 31 and that they could tell the future, and that could even be seen in the pastries. If it became too puffy, it would be a good year.

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Christmas Eve is particularly rich in traditions. Preparations begin weeks in advance. Families start by cleaning their houses from top to bottom in anticipation of the local priest who visits each home to bless it with salt and water. Seeds of lentils, chickpeas, or wheat are placed on cotton balls and allowed to sprout so that families are reminded of the rebirth of life that comes in the spring.

Families gather for the Christmas Eve dinner (khetum, Խթում), which generally consists of: rice, fish, braided bread, basturma, beureg, soudjoukh, bean salads, and yogurt/wheat soup (tanabur, թանապուր). For New Years, instead of the pig thigh, which has become trendy these days, Armenians would place the “amitch”, which is a stuffed bird hanging in an oven (“tonir”). Dessert includes dried fruits and nuts, including sharots, which consists of whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, bastukh (a paper-like confection of grape jelly, cornstarch, and flour), figs, pomegranates, and anoushabour, a pudding made from wheat, berries and apricots, This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives.

Food plays a large role in Armenian Christmas trees and ornamentation. Fruits are often hung on trees along with the white doves that symbolize peace and golden bows for decoration. Ribbons in the three colors of the Armenian flag also garland the Christmas tree; red for the blood that has been shed for the country, orange for the rich land, and blue for the sky that watches over it.

During the holiday season, most homes feature a nativity scene. Children hang handkerchiefs from their roofs in the hopes that they will be filled with fried wheat, raisins, and coins. Children sing carols to passersby from the rooftops, chanting, “Rejoice and be glad! Open your bag and fill our handkerchiefs. Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” These carols are also sung by groups who go house to house, takign with them the bread blessed by the priest called a nshkhar. On New Years Eve their wishes are fulfilled when Gaghant Baba, the Christmas Father, visits them to distribute gifts.

More information:

http://suite101.com/article/an-armenian-christmas-a34744

http://www.expatclic.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=656:christmas-celebrations-in-the-armenian-diaspora&catid=56:general-articles-on-expatriation

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=armenian-christmas—21-centuries-of-tradition-2011-01-04

http://ditord.com/2012/01/07/the-armenian-christmas-and-new-year-controversy/

http://blog.arpinegrigoryan.com/2009/01/new-year-celebrations-armenian-way.html

Armenian Vodka

Oghi (sometimes oghee) is an Armenian spirit distilled from fruits or berries. Oghi, a clear fruit vodka, is also referred to as arak, which is the generic Armenian word for vodka of all kinds. It is widely produced as moonshine from home-grown garden fruits all across Armenia, where it is served as a popular welcome drink to guests and is routinely drunk during meals.

Mulberry oghi is commercially produced and exported under the brand name Artsakh by the Artsakh-Alco Brandy Company in Askeran District in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the Armenian Diaspora, where homemade fruit vodka is no longer common, oghi refers to the aniseed-flavored distilled alcoholic drink called arak in the Middle East, raki in Turkey, or ouzo in Greece. In Armenia, however, aniseed-flavored spirit is virtually unknown. Previously, Western Armenians produced bootleg Oghi from raisins and flavored it with anise. In the old country (pre 1915 Eastern Turkey), the oghi was made from other fruits as well, including mulberries.

Types of Armenian Oghi include:

  • Tuti oghi – mulberry oghi (commercial brand name Artsakh, from Nagorno-Karabakh)
  • Honi oghi – from hon, a small red berry (cornelian cherry)
  • Dzirani oghi – from apricots
  • Tandzi oghi – from pears
  • Khaghoghi oghi – from grapes
  • Salori oghi – from plums
  • Moshi oghi – from blackberry
  • Tzi oghi – from figs
  • Khundzori oghi – from apples

The still for making the Arak can be found in this blog. The mash, which can be just about any fruit, is boiled in the pot on the left. Vapors go through the water-cooled condenser on the right. Out comes vodka at 110 proof, or 30 proof higher then store-bought varieties.

Apparently the homemade vodka is also smuggled into Iran, seen here!