The article is adapted and translated by Christina Hayrapetyan from the book “Armenian National Holidays” by Hranush Kharatyan-Arakelyan (Yerevan, Armenia 2000).
Here came the nation days, take off your old and put on new attires…
This small extract from a Barekendan song and general studies of this feast have made the researchers draw a conclusion that Barekendan was loved and waited by the people to such an extent that it was perceived as the most national and happiest holiday.
Barekendan lasted two weeks immediately succeeding St. Sargis feast and was quitted by Lent. These were two weeks of enjoyments, dances, games, carnivals, theatrical performances and parties. During all these festivities the mode of everyday life and all adopted standard norms of social relations were turned upside down.
As for the holiday dishes, the emphasis was put on the abundance of meat, dairy products and pastry. Barekendan parties which lasted from morning till evening were often, despite the winter cold, held outside. People would join and leave the party table anytime, and that’s why sometimes a party could start with one group of participants and end with another.
The number of dishes on the tables was very important and if there were three dishes in the beginning of the week, the assortments were to increase day by day reaching up to twelve types.
The last day, on Great Barekendan, in the evening they would eat some “matsoon” or “spas” (matsoon soup) and hard-boiled eggs, saying; “We stop eating with white eggs, may we deserve to start with red eggs”, meaning that the Lent was to start the next day and the first animal food which would break the fasting time was the Easter red egg.
These two weeks of Barekendan were full of non-stop dances. The dances were accompanied with folk songs and the number of dancers was increasing day by day. There were so many Barekendan songs that people could keep up with singing till late night. Sometimes there were groups of competing dancers who would create the lyrics of the songs just on the spot in answer to each other. The dances were more active especially the last Saturday and Sunday; in some places even whole towns were chained with dancing circles.
The main entertainments of Barekendan were the games played at home and in public. Each region had their favourite games and everyone, without any distinction, could take part in. The noisy group of players was surrounded with fans, who would encourage or tease the players. During the games everyone could speak in free and easy manner; this was Barekendan and no one was to endure restrictions. The complaints gathered during the year were burst into jokes (pupils to their teachers, kids to parents, youngsters to the elderly); and such kind of behaviour was justified with the right given by Barekendan: “Barekendan day has taken my mind away”.
Barekendan festivities were coloured with masquerades. Boys would wear feminine dressing, youngsters those of old people, trying to make their appearance as funny as they could. There were no forbidden themes and untouchable personalities. Even the priesthood would go out from the frames of their ordinary silence and strict vow to join the festive crowd. They all were equal in merriments.
During these days the church was also celebrating a feast dedicated to Colonel Vardan Mamikonyan, so in many places some scenes from Avarayr battle were staged.
The holiday celebrations reached their culmination on Great Barekendan day, when people were trying to eat all the food away; next day would give start to the Lent – 49 days of food and behaviour restrictions, so the festivities were to be closed with a solemn ceremony of seeing “Utis Tat” (eating grandma) off and inviting “Pas Pap” (fasting grandpa) in.
“Utis Tat” was represented as a doll dressed in old clothes and “Pas Pap” was embodied into a dummy of an old man called “Aklatis”. This “Aklatis” was to hang from the ceiling and to serve as a unique calendar. It had an onion tied on its foot and seven feathers pricked in symbolizing the seven fasting weeks. At the end of each week a feather was to be taken out.
So Barekandan is over and parties surrender giving way to a strict mode of life dictated by the Lent.
*In Western Armenian: Medz Paregentan