04 January 2012

Happy (New) New Year!

December 31st is a special day in Georgia. For us, it signals the end of the holiday season – the time to officially stop spending money on things you don’t need, eating things you shouldn’t. Time to start thinking about throwing out that Christmas tree. Here, though, it is just the beginning. You see, December 31st is a fairly new holiday for Georgians. According to the Russian Orthodox calendar, Christmas is January 7th and New Year is January 13th. This second date is often referred to as “Old New Year,” and has more significance to most Georgians. Never ones to shy away from celebrations and rounds of toasts, though, they have embraced (New) New Year's Eve as a kickoff party of sorts. As far as we can tell, the festivities center solely on feasts and fireworks.
The afternoon of New Year's Eve had the buzz of preparation. All through the city, you could almost here people crossing things off their to do lists. Families left their apartments with bundles veiled in foil, loading the trunks of their car with their contribution to the feast. This little piggy went whee whee whee all the way into the back of a Subaru Forrester. He was generously seasoned with ajiki (a Georgian hot sauce that also comes in a green variety) and was the obvious pride of the man who carried it.
People rushed around with grocery bags and bakeries opened earlier and closed later than usual. This bread cellar is usually pretty sleepy. When we’ve gone down before, there were maybe one or two customers chatting with the floured bakers. On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, though, there was a line all the way up the stairs to the sidewalk. Past the congenial and patient queue, the shop was packed. More workers than we’d seen before were pushing and pulling dough in and out of the immense clay ovens. As orders were completed, the lucky customer would leave everyone else in the flour dust, going up and out to parade their bounty. The fresh, steaming towers of bread never fail to seduce passersby with its come hither scent.
It’s a night for the supra, a grand multi-course meal named after the Georgian word for tablecloth. Possibly because it’s the only thing that is left uneaten? Unlike other capitals on New Year’s Eve, Tbilisi became sleepier in the hours leading up to midnight. Small restaurants shut down in the early evening, so people could go home and dine with family. No doubt everyone was toasting with relatives and eating traditional dished like satsivi, cold chicken in a cinnamon-y walnut sauce with raisins (pictured above and much tastier than it looks).
There’s a carnivalesque vibe to the small holiday markets set up in Tbilisi. Lots of masks, wigs and big felt bows affixed to headbands. Balloon animals, face painting, cotton candy and glitter explosions. The children are officially off from school for holiday break and tourists from around Georgia and elsewhere flash their camera at the lit up city. Tbilisi is beautiful at night, with the mud and dust of transition blacked out and the sheen of finished projects illuminated.
We saw on television the next day that a huge crowd amassed in the New Town for a concert. Somehow, we never found it. Instead, we walked around and took in the gradual crescendo of fireworks. All week, we’ve heard a crack here and a pop there. When the sun went down on December 31st, flashes of light flew and fizzled steadily. Then, in that all important last hour before midnight, it really picked up. It was hard to tell if any of the display was city sponsored or all the collective work of the residents of Tbilisi. Young kids, old women, just about everyone did their part painting the sky. Out on the street or out their window, their firework was shot off. The Christmas season has begun! Happy (New) New Year!

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