Thanks to a last-minute cold, I didn’t have any fancy New Year’s plans here in Tbilisi. I knew it was a family-focused holiday, so I was just glad that I was feeling well enough by the 31st to participate in whatever my host family had up their sleeves.
However, when I say I didn’t have fancy plans, what I did not know is that I did indeed have fancy plans, because New Year’s Eve is a huge deal here in Tbilisi. They take it seriously.
Recap: Holidays In Georgia
12/25: Just another day in the life…
1/1: (starting at 12am) Big huge deal, think about it like a non-religious Christmas in the States – big dinner, presents, lots of family time
1/7: Orthodox Christianity’s Christmas, i.e. what most Georgians celebrate, church is a big deal
So, in preparation for this all-important holiday, Lela had been preparing dishes and cleaning all week. The afternoon of the 31st she was cooking and cleaning and baking. I was texting with Ian trying to figure out a good time to talk on the phone. My texts progressed from “we’ll probably have dinner around 6” to “maybe we’re not eating until 9” to “actually 11pm isn’t good, it’s going to be a late dinner apparently” until it finally dawned on me. We weren’t eating until LITERALLY the New Year. After my two days of nothing but toast and tea, I was ready to rip the fish out of her hands, fry it myself, and devour it.
At 10 minutes to 12, things got real. Lela ran the vacuum through the foyer one last time and took a 45 second shower, since she’d been so busy cleaning and cooking all day. I got the sense that something exciting was about to happen, and felt a little ridiculous at my teeming anticipation.
I was NOT disappointed.
At 5 minutes to 12, fireworks were going off like mad all over the city. Lela produced several giant tubes of fireworks and a pack of matches.
I ran for my Flip video camera.
*Sorry folks, there was a SONG in there, but YouTube flagged me for potential copyright violations… WHOOPS!
I have never in my entire life experienced anything like this! Running through the yard with sprinklers is one thing, but folks, this is all AMATEUR FIREWORKS set off by regular people from their balconies! OUT of CONTROL!
By the time the clock hit midnight, I was too busy screaming like a little kid and videotaping the chaos in the Tbilisi sky to even know I should be counting down!
After the fireworks died down, about 10 minutes after 12, Lela finished frying up the fish, and we all headed into the family room, where the dining table was loaded with different dishes.
Lela asked if I could open the champagne. I must have looked hesitant but then she confessed that she had no idea how to open a champagne bottle. Bless the woman for her foresight in opening the window, because when that cork popped, it flew out the window and a stream of bubbly went flying. Luckily her 13-year-old son was quick with the glasses – there’s a champ in the making.
Dinner was fantastic, and Lela toasted us all in typical Georgian fashion. After dinner, the kids scrambled to open their presents, and I was thrilled to give them each the presents I had picked out for them. I had mild anxiety shopping for them but they loved their presents, and I just felt giddy in general with champagne and general excitement and happiness to be included!
After presents, Lela informed me that they were going to pay a surprise visit to her mother and grandmother, and each of her two sisters. She asked if I wanted to go, and while it was against my better judgment (considering I was barely over a cold and it was after 1am by this time), I said yes anyway. It’s against my living-abroad policy to say no to any invitation offered (unless I think the person is a serial killer, obvi), and I had never met her mom either.
Off we went, armed with champagne, treats, and balloons, and hired a taxi to ferry us around town. I got to hold a gigantic pink rabbit balloon. Excellent. Now this kind of “do everything, see everyone” activity is generally what irritates me about New Year’s. Apparently hiring a taxi is the way to go though, because it was an absolute blast. I was thrilled to meet her mother and grandmother. Georgians being the crazy-hospitable bunch that they are, I was immediately given a glass of homemade wine and a piece of cake, and we went through a round of toasts. As we ran out the door to our next destination, Lela’s mom thrust a napkin full of churchela, a bunch of grapes, and more cake into my hands and kissed my cheeks. It was a whirlwind of excitement!
Then it was off to the apartment of the second sister, who lives just around the corner from my office. A can of spray-snow was revealed, and we were ushered into her home amid soapy-snow, children screaming, and a barking dog. This sister and her husband and son usually live in Moscow, but keep an apartment in Tbilisi as well. I thought this was pretty extravagant, and when I saw their apartment, I wondered what they must do for a living, because it was a gorgeous, fancy apartment. However, the husband had literally just arrived from Moscow and collapsed into bed moments before we arrived, and we had in fact woken him up. Therefore our visit was short, but no less of a whirlwind, this one complete with a gift of an ornament, and plenty of puppy kisses. Yesssss! We ran back out the door, this time with their little cousin, who wanted to join in on the fun.
Back to the taxi and off to the second sister’s apartment! This was entirely amusing because Lela couldn’t remember how to get there. And I thought I had problems directing taxis! Eventually we got there though, and it was the most interesting of the three visits. First of all, this sister and her husband live in an old hotel that now houses IDPs (internally displaced persons) from the Abkhazian war in the early 90s. It’s a huge, rundown building, with hardly any lights on inside to see where you’re going. It felt abandoned, especially with the surly-looking teenagers hanging around outside. Once inside, we traipsed up 6 flights in the dark to their apartment, and were greeted with hugs, kisses, and excitement for all! By this time it was probably around 3am, and the sister’s husband and his friend were quite drunk. The husband’s mother served me yet another gigantic piece of cake, a glass of fruit compote, and the husband and his friend lost no time in pulling out a gigantic bottle of homemade wine and more glasses. The next 30 minutes were spent eating good food and drinking a crazy amount of wine, toasting each other with health, wealth, happiness, success, good relations with America, marriage proposals, and love. After every toast, you’re supposed to empty your glass.
Shout-out to Washington College for teaching me to drink and chug like a champ.
Needless to say, by the time we left, escorted by the entire apartment of people, all hugging and kissing down 6 flights of stairs in the pitch-black, and by the time every one of these people gave me a kiss goodbye before I got in the taxi, I was feeling quite tipsy!
It was past 4:30am by the time I wished Ian a final Happy New Year and good night (he was shocked I was still up) and passed out in bed.
I’ll wrap this up by wishing all of you a wonderful New Year! If the rest of the year is even half as much fun as January 1 was for me, we’re all in for a treat! Welcome 2011!!