The article is adapted and translated by Christina Hayrapetyan from the book “Armenian National Holidays” by Hranush Kharatyan-Arakelyan (Yerevan, Armenia 2000).
The habit of celebrating New Year on January 1 in Armenia became popular not in very remote past. Till the beginning of the 20th century in many regions due to Navasard festivities the New Year celebrations on January 1 were limited only to passing on good wishes to each other. This feast was called in several different ways: New Year, Kaghand, Kaghind, Kalontar. The Armenian Santa Claus was called Kaghand Pap.
One of the main New Year traditions common in all regions of Armenia was the habit of groups of young boys strolling about, singing many different songs and demanding New Year goods. The songs were sung in local dialects and contented the list of required goods.
It must be noted that due to Christmas succeeding New Year (Christmas in Armenia is celebrated on January 6) January the 1st was a fasting day and the holiday dishes were prepared from corresponding ingredients. Beans, rice, cereal were to decorate the table. The dishes were different in each region, but in many places they strived to have 7 types on the table. Lentil and bean “qyufta” and also bean, rice and oil dolma (false dolma) were very traditional.
Rich assortment of fresh and dried fruits was served with traditional “aghandz” (baked grain) mixed with raisin, walnut, almond and “sudjukh” (lined walnut in fruit syrup).
The axis of the holiday dishes was, anyway, the pastry. On December 31 they used to bake bread everywhere, no matter if they had enough or no. The New Year was to start with new bread. First of all they were to renew the “ttkhmor” (sour dough). A young girl of 8-10 years old kneaded some dough, which was to be leavened naturally without adding yeast. And this was the first “ttkhmor” of the year. Then they would bake the most important bread of the feast “Tari Hats” (Year Bread). A bean, seed or coin was placed inside the bread, which was later cut accordingly with the number of the family members, though the domestic animals and the land would obtain their share, too. The lucky one who discovered the hidden sign was believed to be successful in the new year. The cutting of this bread was a real ritual and in different places they cut it on different days during the period of January 1 to 6.
Besides “Tari Hats” they also had a tradition of baking small cookies of different shapes: farming equipments symbolizing prosperity, churn, money sachets, as well as human and domestic animal shapes. The baking outcome would tell about positive or negative fortune. For example, a swollen cookie representing a woman predicted appearance of a baby in the family.
The celebration of New Year started with a dinner on December 31. All members of the family had to be present at that dinner. The eldest member would tell a toast, bless the table and offer everyone to taste honey with the first glass of the drink. “Let’s taste sweet honey in order to speak, listen to and treat each other sweetly all year long”.
At midnight young people would go to springs to bring new water of the New Year. The water of this hour was considered to have great power. Sometimes they would throw some cookies into the water wishing many happy returns.
Besides the bread and water, the fire was also to be renewed. The fireplace was considered to be a holy place at home and the New Year fire was of more significance and was to be on throughout the New Year days. During these days everyone in the family when entering the house would bring a piece of wood to put into the fire. In many places they used to put a big piece of wood in the fireplace in order to keep the fire on till Christmas.
The door on New Year days was never locked and the guests were always welcome. The guests would never come in with empty hands, they were to, at lease, bring an apple and many good wishes.