Christmas in Georgia, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country, is celebrated with a combination of religious traditions, unique customs, and festivities. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Georgia:
The Georgian Orthodox Church plays a central role in Christmas celebrations. Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, following the Julian calendar. Leading up to Christmas, church services and prayers are held, with the most important service taking place on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, many Georgians participate in the "Alilo" procession. People dress in traditional costumes, often as characters from the Nativity story, and parade through the streets singing carols and collecting donations for charity. The Alilo is a colorful and joyful tradition that reflects the spirit of giving during the holiday season.
The Christmas Eve meal, known as "Chichilaki," is a significant tradition. It typically features traditional Georgian dishes, such as "satsivi" (chicken or turkey in a walnut sauce), "khachapuri" (cheese-filled bread), and various salads. The feast is enjoyed with family and friends, and a special toast is made to celebrate the holiday.
In some regions of Georgia, especially in western parts, it is customary to decorate a "Chichilaki," a small, conical-shaped evergreen tree made from walnut or hazelnut branches. These are adorned with various decorations and are considered a symbol of Christmas.
Christmas caroling is a cherished tradition in Georgia. Groups of children and adults visit homes and sing traditional Christmas carols in exchange for small gifts or sweets. Carolers are often welcomed with warmth and hospitality.
A sweet, braided Christmas bread called "nazuki" is often baked and shared during the holiday season. It is made with ingredients like honey, raisins, and spices and is a popular treat during Christmas.
While gift-giving is not as central to the Christmas celebration in Georgia as it is in some other countries, small gifts are exchanged among family and friends. The focus is more on spending time together and sharing the holiday spirit.
Christmas is a time for family reunions, and many people travel to be with their loved ones during the holiday season. Family gatherings are a central part of the celebration.
Lighting candles and placing them in windows is a common tradition, symbolizing the hope and light that Christmas brings.
In Georgia, the New Year's holiday is also celebrated with great enthusiasm and often involves fireworks, festive parties, and more gift-giving.
Christmas in Georgia is a time of religious reflection, feasting, and togetherness. The traditions and customs vary slightly by region and family, but the holiday season is marked by a warm and welcoming spirit, celebrating both the birth of Jesus and the spirit of giving and community.
Christmas all around the world is celebrated on the 25th of December. In this respect, the small country of Georgia stands out. Georgians celebrate the festival on the 7th of January. Why, you ask? The reason is that the Georgian Orthodox Church, much like those in Russia and Ethiopia, use the old 'Julian' calendar for their festivals.
However, no reduction in merry making is observed in the citizens. On the day of Christmas, many people participate in a parade in the streets – 'Alilo'. They dress up in new, special clothes for Christmas. While some are seen enveloped in the Georgian flag, others might be dressed as characters of the Christmas tales. An added incentive for children to take part in the Alilo is that they are often rewarded with sweets.
Expectedly, many carols are sung throughout the country. Many of these, sung during the Alilo often have the following words: "on 25th December, Christ was born in Bethlehem".
Georgian tradition harbours its very own Christmas tree, called the 'Chichilaki'. Dried hazelnut or walnut branches, are cleaned and shaved into long twisty, curly strips to form a small little tree. Word goes around, and many find the look of the tree creepily similar to that of the long, white, curly beard of St.Basil the Great. The tree is decorated with small fruits and sweets and, by tradition is burnt one day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany, i.e, the 19th of January. This is a symbolic practice, meant to mark the end of all the trroubles of the year that was. Nevertheless, the supposedly 'Western' Christmas Tree is also quite popular.
Traditionally, "Tovlis Papa" or "Tovlis Babua" (in western Georgian dialect) brings to the children, their presents on New Year's Eve. Tovlis Papa, the Georgian citizens' "Grandfather Snow" is expected to be wearing all white everything (including a hat). He also wears a white, native 'nabadi', a heavy, warm cloak made of the white sheep's wool.
Legend says that on New Year's Eve he descends from his home in the Caucasian mountains tours Georgia delivering treats and sweets to all the children in the country. The children too give their snowy gift guy a little something. They leave out "Churchkhela" a mouth watering dish made of walnuts and grape juice, in the shape of a sausage, for him. Santa is also often confused with "Tovlis Papa", (and although they sound pretty much the same minus the attire) ; many, strongly believe that their Grandfather Snow is only one of a kind.