Armenian Traditions: Hampartsoum

Ascension Day (Hampartsoum) is the holiday of love and enjoyment, which is celebrated outdoors in the blossom of May, 40 days after Easter. The celebration also is called Jangyulum (‘gyul’ means rose) in Armenia.

In ancient times on this day the young ladies were allowed to walk freely in the fields, sing songs, and make acquaintances, which often became crucial in their lives. According to people’s imagination this is the night of miracle. At midnight exactly nature finds the gift of speech, the water is still for a second; the sky and the earth embrace; the stars kiss one another. Space stops its wheel and the one who witnesses these magic moments will have his or her dreams fulfilled. Plants are said to hug one another at this moment, after which they begin to tell one another what cure and remedies each of them can have, and early in the morning women go to the valleys to pick up herbs.

The main ritual is the vijagakhagh (lottery game). The Wednesday morning before Ascension Thursday, young girls would go to gather flowers from seven different homes. Towards evening, they would take a pail and go to seven households or to seven fountains to fill their pails with water. This ritual, called “stealing water,” forbids any talking, looking back, or placing the water pails on the ground.  The flowers or herbs would be added to the pail. Each person participating in the vijagakhagh would place a personal belonging (nshan) — such as a ring, bracelet, or necklace —  into the pail.  This pail was placed out in the open at night, under the stars, so that the stars would influence the nshans and grant their owners their hearts’ desires. Throughout the night, young girls would keep watch over the vijag pail so that the young men of the neighborhood would not snatch it away.  If the boys managed to do so, the girls would have to give a ransom to get the vijag pail back. After church on Ascension Thursday, all participants would take the pails and would go on a picnic, or gather in someone’s backyard.  One of the girls would dress up as a bride.  Usually this girl would have to be the eldest daughter of a family.  Vijag songs were sung and verses  were recited.  After each song or verse, the bride would draw out of the pail one of the nshans. To whomever the object belonged, that song or verse would become her vijag or her lot. The luckiest was believed to be the one whose item was drawn out the first.

Rice cooked with milk is the main dish of the day, called gatnaboor. It is very similar to rice pudding. The white food is meant to signify purity. In the villages, each household would provide some of the milk used to make the communal pot of gatnaboor. Furthermore, each household would make their own gatnaboor and distribute to 7 other houses. Traditions here also included distributing some of the pudding in the fields, with the idea that just as children require milk to grow, the crops will accept the milk and become plentiful.

The eve of Ascension Day was when betrothals were arranged and destinies decided for young couples.

THE EVE OF ASCENSION DAY

BY DERENIK DEMIRJIAN
Nigh with her ebony hair and starry crown
Upon the hills came down.
Her loosened tresses floated all unbound
And veiled her form around.

The fountain murmured like an endless tale
On her entrancing lips; and it would seem
As if God spake within the silent vale,
And sleeping Earth were listening, in a dream.

Like blackened clouds, in Jorokh’s stream arise
Those rocks that through her savage waters pierce;
Like dragons twain, they glare with threatening eyes,
Facing each other, arrogant and fierce.

Wild Jorokh through that fearsome valley flows–
Flows like a caravan that onward sweeps;
First roaring loud, then hushed into repose,
Groping its way through darkness, on it creeps.

The sounds of Earth are melted into rest,
While strikes the hour of expectation deep;
Earth’s waters heave, against each other pressed,
And breathless listening, all their vigils keep.

Decked out like lovely brides stand all the flowers;
With nuptial joy the forests trembling wait:
Until Heaven’s blessing fall in sacred showers,
And whispering softly, each may clasp its mate.

Christian history of the day: http://www.accc.org.uk/ascension-day

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