The attached article engagingly describes Georgia’s many folk customs, some religious, some secular, surrounding the New Year (“Akhal Tseli”) and Christmas (“Shoba”) celebrations. As the Church in Georgia still adheres to the Julian calender for liturgical purposes (like the Churches of Moscow and Serbia), we have the odd situation that Christmas follows the New Year by a week. The Patriarch customarily issues an oekonomia ( dispensation) for the Orthodox faithful to relax their fasting somewhat for the New Year celebration and enjoy a drink or two in moderation.
If you are celebrating your holidays at a Georgian friend’s house, the first thing that might strike you as strange is the nut wood twig with long fluffy shavings decorating the most dominant spot in the house, perhaps alongside the more familiar fir. The twig is called a chichilaki. And while it does not permeate the entire room with the nice fresh pine aroma that fir does, it certainly serves as an interesting decorative feature and, for the Georgians, serves as a symbol of life and hope. Achichilaki is usually decorated with an assortment of fruits, berries, and flowers as offerings to heaven for a bountiful harvest. Chichilakis are not a year-round Christmas symbol, however, as people ceremoniously burn them on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany on January 19, believing that the smoke takes away all the misfortunes of the year…….
Once the New Year has been welcomed, celebrated and honoured, there follows another holiday, Christmas, also occupying a special place in the hearts and souls of Georgians. The Georgian Christmas is traditionally celebrated from the evening of January 6th with Orthodox Christian devotees attending a festive public service that lasts all night. After the service is over, Georgians continue the celebration at home, lighting candles and sitting at the holiday table once more, this time with even more delicacies, since for many Georgians the birth of Christ symbolizes the end of the fasting period. The next morning, the 7th, is marked by a special Alilo procession, during which clergymen walk along the streets carrying icons, crosses, and flags, followed by Christians of all ages. Children dressed in white usually lead the procession, symbolizing angels on foot. As the ceremony proceeds, the participants collect donations and gifts to be given to orphanages and people in need. In the end, believers unite at Sameba (the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) to accept the congratulations of the Patriarch of All Georgia on Christmas.