Saturday, 21 November 2009
My MagAzine editor is getting demanding. She is now suggesting some topics for the next issue. Like a little girl pretending to be a princess, I pretend I am a columnist. I get deadlines! And topics! And word limits! And the next issue, of course, is due in December. So...Here is your special, unedited version!
It is that time of the year again. Season to be merry. Christmas is around the corner. And it comes early to the UK. Every street will light up with thousands of pretty lights; and only in two weeks, on Friday night, everybody in our little commuter village will walk out to a late night Christmas shopping. We will drink mulled wine and sit outside, munching on roast pork sandwiches and mince pies. My child will join a queue of other kids lined up to speak to Father Christmas himself (he tends to set his grotto up in our local hardware store)
Since I relocated to the UK, people often ask me whether we celebrate Christmas back in Azerbaijan. I usually explain that it is a Muslim country so no, we do not. We have other cool holidays though, during which we sacrifice some sheep and feed poor people. But, having been part of the Soviet Union (read: the Big Brother Russia) for 70 years, we still celebrate the New Year.
But in a very fascinating way.
First of all, there, of course, is what Azeries would call a Shahta Baba, or, to use his original, Russian name- Ded Moroz. If you expect it to mean the same as Father Christmas, then you are wrong: Soviet holidays could not have any religious bearing. We, therefore, created our own, Soviet version. So, Ded Moroz literally means a Grandfather Frost.
Granddad Frost’s life is a lot more exciting than that of his Christian relative, because he is not as lonely. Instead of reindeer, he actually has a pretty young girl of Slovakian looks, with long plaited blond hair. The girl is called Snegurochka, which means a Snow Girl. Snegurochka, we were told, is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter. She is normally the most popular character at any New Year party. The New Year parties for children are called Yolkas (or the Christmas tree party) and are a must- attends for every child in the post-Soviet country like Azerbaijan.
And of course, we have a Christmas tree, which also gets decorated in the same way.
I view the whole New Year thing as a fascinating example of how old habits can linger for years and generations to come. Having become an independent country, Azerbaijan tried to get rid of the “Noviy God”.
Understandably, there is no place for a suspiciously Christmassy looking geezer and his hot granddaughter in a Muslim country. So, instead, we started celebrating the Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanians of the World. ( See comments for correction and details if interested)
So, we got a day off on the 31st of December, but officially, we were not celebrating the New Year. In the meantime, every TV channel and every shop sported Yenni Yelleniz Muberek (Happy New Year) signs and pictures of Christmas trees.
So are we openly celebrating the New Year or is it our dirty secret?
I say yes, we do celebrate it. And it is a very special time for Azeries.
We get together with our families and loved ones. We normally stay at home, and only go out to parties after 12. We roast a chicken and prepare a Russian salad and lots of cakes. Everybody calls everybody, and the phone lines are going crazy.
I love the New Year back home.
Here, in the UK it is actually not a big deal. The young people will often get together for a party; perhaps, chuck a few fireworks up in the air and share a sip of champagne. But the rest of us just stay at home, watching the incredibly boring TV show, during which Sir Paul McCartney struggles to prove he has still got it.
I always try though, to not allow this special time of the year to pass unnoticed.
So I celebrate it twice: the first time at 8pm, which is my Azeri New Year. I call my parents and relatives, and have some champagne. I always look forward to that 8pm moment, as I never know which old friend might suddenly surprise me with a phone call from somewhere far, far away. From my childhood, which smells of our old flat with TV on in the background, chicken roasting in the oven, tangerines and the Russian salad.
It is a happy time, after all, if always a bit nostalgic for me. So, whatever you celebrate, have a good one this year. Happy Solidarity of Azerbaijanians day!