Two New Year’s Eves and More…

Two New Year’s Eves and More…

New Year's Eve is always sparkling with joy, excitement, and fireworks, and Georgia is no exception. Many people rejoice in anticipation of the new year on December 31st , with the Christmas tree aglow, gifts arranged under it, and Santa Claus (Tovlis Babua) paying a secret visit. In Georgia of course, a lavish feast (supra) is also provided. Simply put, it's so much fun, why not do it twice? Well, that’s exactly what the Georgians do! Here, they also celebrate January 14th - Old New Year - which is the day of St. Basil, and thus often called Basiloba or Kalandoba.

“The Beard of Basil”

For Old New Year, people set up a chichilaki - a tree-shaped decoration carved out of a large hazelnut tree. At first, the trunk of the tree has to be peeled; then, in order to make it flexible, it has to be heated. By the end, the skin must be repeatedly peeled off with a knife from the bottom up, and the stand is attached at the bottom, with the cross at the top and, voilà, the chichilaki is ready. People are also known to decorate it with fruit, sweets, and churchkhela (traditional Georgian sweets made of walnuts and grape juice, looking like a sausage). Being the most important attribute of Kalandoba, chichilaki was sometimes referred to as the “Beard of Basil”.

People also bake a sweet cake called a "Basilopita" especially for this day and conceal a coin inside. Whoever finds this coin is said to get a special blessing from Saint Basil the following year. Many Georgian monasteries still commemorate "Basilopitoba" on their calendars. Moreover, on New Year's Eve, chichilaki is a common feature of practically every home.

Kalanda in Guria

In Guria, the Old New Year is referred to as Kalanda. Just before the arrival of Kalanda, the men of the house would enter the cellar while holding a New Year pie, a large platter full of New Year's dishes, a Chichilaki and an empty Qvevri. The head of the family would arrange everything on the ground, without saying a word, and would fill the clay pitcher only halfway, and then kneel down to pray to St. Basil for his family's happiness. The Mekvle (specially selected person who’d enter the house from a “lucky foot”) would then pick one walnut from the serving and pray to Saint Basil to bless the family with all good things.

After this, they would crack open the nut. A full nut would indicate a positive omen. Otherwise, the whole ritual would be repeated all over again. For Kalanda, a crescent-shaped pie is baked in Guria, with Georgian cheese and boiled egg. The egg symbolizes abundance, strength, and unity of the family. A similar tradition is observed in Imereti.

New Year’s Eve in Adjara 

Before the clock would strike 12, a male sheep decorated with colorful ribbons, as a symbol of abundance, would be brought into the living room in Ajara. In the first minutes of the New Year, the head of the family would go outside and shoot from a gun as a symbol of longevity and joy.

At that moment, the lady of the house would put on a red dress, and would scatter a mix of rice and sugar in all rooms of the house, so that the family would be blessed with sweetness and abundance all-year-round. 

In the morning, the head of the family would go to the barn, while dragging an iron chain so that they would have plenty of goods. The lady of the house would then bring a jug full of water into the house, sprinkling it everywhere.

Mekvle and Mperkhavi

Celebrating New Year’s Eve, as well as Old New Year, would be incomprehensible without a mekvle. The mekvle, or mperkhavi as it is called in Ajara, is a person respected by the host family and given special appreciation  and standing. Such a person would be selected to be the family's first visitor of the New Year, and a special welcome was arranged for them.

In turn, the mekvle would bring sweets and other goodies, so that abundance would be with this family all year round. The head of the family would greet them with sweets too. It was, and in many cases still is, believed that the well-being and abundance of a family depended (or depends) on the mekvle, and their intentions. That’s why, along with being a great honor, being the mekvle was also a great responsibility. The tradition is still very popular in Georgia.

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