Saturday, 21 November 2009

Who needs reindeer if you can have a hot chick instead?

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!


  1. Thanks for the good wishes.
    Here in PerĂº our celebration is much more alike than the one you describe for the UK. Only that here it's already summer, so lots of people camp at any beach around Lima.
    Me, I prefer to stay home. For lots of reasons, but that's another (long and maybe boring) story.

  2. Ohh, Scary:( I am getting nostalig too reading your post. Ded Moroz thing is cool I think:) What's more interesting is that ironically after the collapse of SU, Azerbaijani Ded Morozes (what's the plural here?) now wear Santa Claus costumes:) Go figure:)

  3. The Solidarity Day is the 31st of December, Scary. In the former Soviet Union it used to be a working day. In the Independent Azerbaijan it became the day of Solidarity because on that day in 1993 Azerbaijanis from the North (former Soviet) Azerbaijan and the South (Irani) Azerbaijan destroyed the barbed wire and crossed the river Araz, that divides the nation into two parts (there are over 25 million ethnic Azerbaijanis, living in Iran). The significance of that event for Azerbaijanis is as great as the fall of the Berline wall, because from that time on it became possible to go to Iran and come to Azerbaijan through that part of the border.

  4. u mean :"chiken roasting in the OVEN?ha-ha.Baba

  5. Are you sure Snegurochka is really Shahta Baba's granddaughter? Sounds a bit suspicious to me... ;)

  6. Sopisticos: Are you a politician under cover? :) I thought it was all inter-connected. I recall us staying at home during the whole New Year time, but calling it something else.

    Perhaps, I am wrong. I shall check all my facts before I put this in a magazine then. Good thing, actually. I could use this posting trick as a draft for checking purposes! :))

  7. Onnik: I know. Something is not quite right.

  8. Oh Scary:) The Soviet day off was the 1st of January, on the 31st of December our parents had to work:)But now Azerbaijanis have a legal 31st of December off. You are too young to have clear ideas about the changes. But I am available for checking purposes:)

  9. I looooooooooove Christmas. We celebrate it every year. We make loads of food just like u described, lotsa salads, chicken levengi with rice. Ohhh I can't wait. It's really the best time of the year))

  10. @Sofisticos:

    I just have my own ideas of the reasons behind the changes. :))) So the 31st then, not the 1st. The bottom line remains the same- we have our own holiday, the solidarity day instead of the New Year's eve. :)

    But thanks for the correction. I will change the posting slightly. :)

    @Sabina@ Levengi for Xmas! Sounds great. I personally would celebrate any holiday of any culture, as long as there is food and drink involved. ;)

  11. My favourite day is Christmas Eve - I love the build up and the anticipation to Christmas, but not so much the day itself. Too much guilt laid on about who is going to who for dinner (I feel another post coming on!) I'm not so keen on New Year either, too sentimental. Interesting to hear about your celebrations though.

  12. Uff Scary. I know you have your own ideas about almost everything, otherwise I wouldn't be your loyal reader:) But nothing was substituted by the new order, a day off was added which made the preparations easier.

  13. One of my best childhood memories is going to those "Yolka" parties and coming back with bagfuls of assorted candy.

    It's as if communist ideologues who came up with the concept of "Ded Moroz" have managed to merge elements of Christmas, New Year, and Halloween...

  14. Riyad: "and Halloween"? :) What sort of New Year celebrations did you have as a child????!!! :)))

  15. Well, at first I was referring to those bags of candy (you give away candy on Halloween in the UK, don't you?). But come to think about it, on "Yolkas" there always were a bunch of kids dressed up as wolves, piglets, hedgehogs and god knows what else, so there you go: another similarity with Halloween.

  16. Scary, I loved to celebrate New Year! It was always very special! But now everything changed. And I am thinking offten - was it because I was a child? Or was it that special because it was the only not communistic hollyday in the Soviet Union? Who knows?