While the U.S. has been gearing up for Christmas since roughly August, here in the Republic of Georgia things are just starting to feel Christmas-y! Not long after I arrived back in late October, crews were starting to put up the lights and assemble the tree in Freedom Square, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating the day they’d actually turn the lights on!
I am thrilled to say the least! Christmas lights and decorations are one of my favorite things about the holiday! Along with the food, and the music, and the family time! And the after-Christmas sales! And… well you get the point. So I am really excited that the lights are finally lit. Unfortunately the majority of the Christmas lights are centered downtown on Rustaveli Avenue, the more “touristy” part of town.
However, I was pleased to come out of the metro to find a few lights on my street, Robakidze (pronounced with a generous rolling of the R – rrrrrroba-keyed-zay).
Every time I look at the calendar I am amazed that Christmas is less than 3 weeks away. I must say that I really appreciate the lack of constant in-your-face-it’s-Christmas-OMGI’MNOTDONESHOPPINGYET. In fact, I was surprised upon seeing a classic Christmas-y Coca-Cola commercial last week. Since I love cheesy commercials, of course I found it heartwarming, but I felt slightly confused – why are they playing Christmas commercials? Silly Coca-Cola RoGA marketing team! Immediately after that thought, oh right, it’s already December!
One of the exciting things about spending the holidays in a foreign country is learning new traditions. Georgians are largely Orthodox Christian, which means they go by the old calendar – the Julian calendar I believe? – that a few hundred years ago (or so, I meant “learning new traditions” loosely) figured out that there were two extra weeks in the calendar, and the rotation around the sun wasn’t matching up. So they nixed two weeks in October and called it even with the sun. While the majority of the world went forward with the new calendar, the Orthodox Christians decided to keep the dates of the old calendar for religious purposes, and therefore they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, and the New “religious” Year on Jan 14th. They also celebrate the actual Jan 1 New Year with the rest of the world on – you guessed it – Jan 1.
The other interesting thing is that they call the Christmas tree the New Year tree. So the pretty tree in Freedom Square is actually the New Year tree (although I will continue to refer to it as the Christmas tree to everyone’s confusion) and my host family here will put up their New Year tree around Dec 20th. They’ll decorate it similarly to how we do in the US – lights and balls and other ornaments. Once we get it up I’ll post some pictures for your enjoyment.
Lela (my hostess) also explained to me that they will attend a Christmas Eve midnight mass. As Christmas Eve mass has always been my favorite holiday tradition, I was initially excited, until she told me that the mass is from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. and they stand the entire time. So I am not convinced I will be attending (especially since I will not be able to understand a single word).
In preparation, Orthodox Christians participate in a fast for the 40 days leading up to Christmas. They cut out all meat and dairy products. Children are exempt, as they need the nutrients, particularly dairy. I tell you this because I was initially planning to cook my host family a traditional “American” Christmas dinner – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a pie – the works! You are allowed to laugh imagining my face when I realized how the fast would put a cramp in that plan. Yes folks – I left San Francisco to come to the Republic of Georgia and plan a VEGAN CHRISTMAS. Can someone please ship me a tofurkey? The good news here is that they can eat fish (except on Wednesdays and Fridays). So the plan for now is a baked fish (no butter), stuffing (this might be the easiest to pull off), yams with brown sugar (if I can find some) and cinnamon (ditto), some plain veggies, and a fruit cobbler made with just fruit and oats perhaps?
If you have any suggestions for simple meat & dairy- free Christmas-y recipes, please leave them in the comments or email them to me. Simple ingredients are KEY.
Thanks and Happy Christmas Shopping! Of course a Happy Hanukah to those of you celebrating right now! We’re still in Hanukah right?
And now, more pretty light pictures for your enjoyment!
P.S. Yes I did write this entire blog post listening to Frank Sinatra Christmas songs!