• Hashem Khalidi, Anna Korienieva, Ceyhun Əliyev

The Institute Presents: Traditions of New Year's

With 2020 now approaching, and all of us for sure dosy at the food and drink, we at the Institute want to once again present you with some of the traditions our members followed for New years! A moment to reflect on the past and the future. WIth this in mind, we hope you all had a wonderful time with friends and family and that your 2020 is just as good as the last year and better!

Dressing up as Bears in Romania!

Source: CultureTrip © Alex Dima

Noemi Akopian – Yerevan, Armenia

In Armenia, the holiday season begins on New Year's Eve. On December 31, families and friends sit down for big holiday feast and exchange gifts at the stroke of midnight.

Since most people live in apartment buildings, Santa Claus cannot climb down the chimney to deliver presents to the children. So, he either leaves them on the doorstep, rings the bell and disappears or places them under the Christmas Tree at night, after everyone has gone to sleep.

On the following days, friends and relatives visit each other and celebrate with traditional Armenian and Eastern European dishes.Tables are set with roast pork, dolma.(stuffed grape leaves), blinchiks (crepes with ground beef), salads, cheeses and cold cuts, fruits and mixed nuts, and various sweets and pastries. In the weeks leading up to the New Year, cities are bustling with people doing their holiday shopping, admiring the lights and decorations and sampling the treats at the Christmas Market. It is a lively time of year, and it is all about love, celebration, abundance and reconnection. We wrap up the holiday season on January 14, which is known as the Old New Year.

Ceyhun Əliyev - Tovuz, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan gradually started celebrating New Year next year after the Bolsheviks seized power in April 1920. Before that, “Nowruz Holiday” was primarily considered as the new year of the country (which is celebrated as an awakening of the land during some days of spring months, mainly in March). Interestingly, following this Azerbaijanis have attributed almost the same importance to both of the holidays.

A typical Azerbaijani family would celebrate a new year with a table full of diverse meals: a capital salad, plov (rice) dishes, Caucasian kebab and many more... However, Azerbaijanis do not get upset when they “overeat” on the New Year eve and possibly get health problems the next day.

Surprising visits by friends and acquaintances are the fun and welcomed part of hospitable national tradition. Inherited from the Soviets also, though most Azerbaijanis are formally Muslims, they drink on the important days as in New Year and justify: “it is okay to drink once a year”.

One can hear the sound of fireworks occasionally, around 10 days before the December 31, a major firework day. Some of fireworks are irritatingly as small as a toe and can not be seen thus be ready to be scared by the noise if one booms around you. Environmentally speaking, in the recent past the winter has passed by almost with no snow on the ground. This is annoying for me especially, since I used to see in my childhood high snow height during the New Year eve at least!

Ana Popova – Ruse, Bulgaria

On the last day of the year, Bulgarians prepare an amount of food, sufficient to feed a small village...for each table. We drink and eat with friends and family whilst waiting for the new begin to come. After the countdown is over, there is one melody playing all around Bulgaria – the Dunavsko Horo (Danube Dance). Everyone – young and old, performs the traditional folklore dance. We hold each other by the hand and connect in a circle. Bulgarians uphold this fun tradition on the main square in every town and village and is a particularly amusing view if the dancers come from different parts of Bulgaria. Southerners have their own way of dancing the Horo, which is different than the one we dance is Northern Bulgaria (on the Danube River).

As soon as no one can walk anymore after two to three hours of different Horo dances, everybody gathers back around the table. Each child has prepared a cornus stick called Survankitsa. Children decorate them with objects symbolising fertility and wealth – popcorn, different dried fruit and coins – and tap people on the back. During this ritual, children recite poems wishing health and happiness for the upcoming year.

A Survankitsa, Source: Radio Bulgaria
Valentin Luntumbue - Brussels, Belgium

Like with many other things, it is difficult to clearly pinpoint what part of Belgium's christmas traditions are distinctly Belgian. Westernmost edge of the Germanic world pressing upon romance France, all the while facing the English Channel, Belgium's winter celebrations are somewhat syncretic. Thus, lucky Belgian children receive presents both from Sinterklaas and Santa Claus. A rather postmodern experience.

Holiday season spans from Saint-Nicholas day on the 6th of December to the Epiphany a month later, or all the way to the Chandeleur on the 2nd of February. The catalogue and nature of celebrations vary from region to region. In quite the same way there are many ways to be Walloon, Flemish or Bruxellois, there a nebula of ways to celebrate the holidays.

Amongst the fractal identities of Belgium, there is however a constant I can identify: though Belgian society is deeply patriarchal, the family unit is often dominated by matriarchs around which the family congregates during the holidays. In my family, our matriarch was my great-grandmother, who hailed from a little Flemish town close to Leuven, a place of pilgrimage where the Virgin Mary performed miracles in the late Middle-Ages. Although noone in the family was ever religious (or Christian for that matter), we'd all gather around our matriarch around Christmas.

After living through two World Wars, my great-grandmother died aged 96 in suburban Brussels. With its matriarch gone, my family, never really observant, slowly ceased to care for the holidays.