Tag Archives: holiday

Mid-Autumn Festival

Well today is the mid-Autumn Festival in China. It’s a national holiday so most people have the day off. The festival is on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This year it happened to fall on September 19th.

In ancient China people used to worship the sun in the spring and moon in the fall. The festival is always held when the moon is the large in the sky.

Like everything in China, there’s a bit of folklore behind this festival. One story mentions how there once were ten suns that would always burn the farmers’ crops. Deciding enough was enough a hero named Hou Yi climbed Kunlun Mountain and shot nine of the suns out of the sky with his magic bow.

One day Hou Yi ran across the Empress Wangmu of Heaven. The empress gave him a special potion that would turn Hou Yi into a celestial being. He didn’t want to part with his lovely wife Chang E so he gave her the potion for safe keeping. This was all seen by local troublemaker and scoundrel Penguin Meng.

Chang E was alone at home one day when CRASH, Peng Meng smashed the door to splinters and began to cause a ruckus. ‘Hand over the potion or I’ll stick this knife in you!’ Afraid and unable to beat Peng Meng, Chang E quickly drank the potion. Her body floated out the window and into the sky.

Hou Yi returned in the evening and learned what happened from the servants. He looked up to the sky and saw how much fuller and brighter the moon was. There was also a shadow that looked like his wife. He chased the moon but was never able to catch it.

Realizing his wife was lost, Hou Yi set a small table of Chang E’s favorite meats and fruits and held a memorial ceremony for her. The local people were so touched by the ceremony they started to pray for Chang E and worship the moon asking for good fortune and peace.

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Nor Tari

For many places around the world New Year’s is outshined by Christmas.  Thankfully not so in Armenia. New Year (Nor Tari) is far and away more popular and central to the Armenian culture.

Local kids selling shots of vodka to those that pass by.

Local kids selling shots of vodka to those that pass by.

Nor Tari isn’t much like Western New Years Eve; there’s a lot of drinking, eating and socializing. Actually that is pretty similar to NYE around the world but Nor Tari cranks it up to 11 by lasting more than one night. Normally it starts on December 31 watching the ball drop on TV like everyone else in the world and continues until the Epiphany on January 6.  That’s a solid week of celebration.  And it’s not like Carnival in Brazil.  The biting cold winter of the Caucasus mountains means everyone is staying inside to eat and drink.

Even without the holiday it’s still a great idea.  The winters in Armenia suck hard.  Most houses are stone houses with crummy insulation.  Only one room is heated.  Going to the outhouse often means battling ferocious winds, ice slicks and snow drifts.  I once did laundry and my fingers almost froze solid hanging my things out to dry.  My pants actually did freeze solid.  So with all the cold misery winter brings why not have the biggest party of the year then?  Make winter something to look forward to instead of dreading.

Three generations of host family.  Grandmother, aunt (far left), mother (far right), and sister.

Three generations of host family. Grandmother, aunt (far left), mother (far right), and sister.

The center of Nor Tari are friends and family. Just like Christmas in other countries, this is the big time for far flung family members to return home for a few days as well as visit everyone in the surrounding villages. And since hospitality is genetically wired into Armenian culture, friends and family means food. Sometimes people will coordinate and have large dinners at a single house. Sometimes people go off by their lonesome. Men visit their neighbors for some vodka. Women visit their friends for wine or coffee and cake. What ends up happening is that for a week there’s a constant stream of people going to and fro. And they’re all inviting each other to come along. I haven’t tested this theory yet, but a known serial killer would be invited inside for dinner during Nor Tari. It’s just that open.

Handmade Armenian cakes.

Handmade Armenian cakes.

The men drinking their vodka.

The men drinking their vodka.

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As the biggest celebration of the year, most Armenian families save up just to throw a lavish spread. Some of the more consumptive families take out loans to throw a part big enough to impress their friends. But that happens more in the city than in the villages. In the villages people throw parties, but it’s expected that you’ll be expecting so many visitors over the days that throwing one huge party is a waste.

As an American I was lucky enough to experience Nor Tari twice. Both years I was invited to dozens of homes and drank dozens of shots and ate dozens of pounds of food. A normal day would involve waking up, eating some left overs that an Armenian mother forced me to take from dinner last night, take a shower, and then visit three or four houses of people I knew. It was far and away the best time in Armenia. Being a foreigner I was treated like a rock star. I may have visited four houses a day, but in each of those houses I was the only foreign guest they’d ever had. Pushy with getting me to eat on a normal day, the Armenian women would have pried open my mouth with a crowbar and just shoveled food in if I tried to refuse. And the men would bring the cognac to go with the meal and keep me hungry. After eating, drinking, talking, dancing (depending on how much drinking happened) I would beg to be excused and make my way to another house to do it all over again.  To be honest, after experience Nor Tari I don’t really enjoy other celebrations.  They’re just not as awesome.

World famous cognac.

Pro-tip:  If you’re ever asked to make a toast to Armenians, make one out to all the women who worked to provide all the excellent food.  They really appreciate it and their efforts are often taken for granted in Armenian society.