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December 24#: Tbilisi Christmas Tree – Georgia

5 min read

From its Puritan roots to complaints of rampant commercialism, Christmas around the world is been filled with traditions, old and new. Some date back to 16th-century Germany or even ancient Greek times, while others have caught on only in modern times.

And, among them, Christmas trees are one of the most popular, now all over the world.
Their tradition is long and rich, and has resulted in some modern trees that run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful, encapsulating everything that Christmas stands for, to something simply weird.
Thus, If you need a little help to get into the holiday spirit this year, get yourself a winter drink with some holiday treats and a tour of the world’s best or most unusual Christmas trees. These towering pines (or sand or bottle piles, in some cases) are decked to the nines and shine brightly for holiday season, from Florida, Brazil, Mexico all the way to Lithuania.

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Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi is gradually becoming one of the most visited destinations for the winter season.
This is especially evident during the Christmas period, when the illuminated and fabulously decorated city, provides a magical festive atmosphere, with its countless little lights and richly decorated Christmas trees are lining up the sidewalks.

Christmas is a very auspicious time of year in Georgia, when the country’s deep Christian roots and family traditions combine with an interesting variety of feasting, toasting and partying.
Georgia follows the Julian calendar and thus Christmas falls later than it does in the West, in the first week of January. But December 31 is the main event that sees raucous celebrations in Tbilisi, Batumi and the regions.
Together with other holiday traditions unique to Georgia, you have almost an entire month of religious and national holidays, with the festive mood that fires up in mid-December when the lights go on in Tbilisi, and only ends with Orthodox Epiphany towards the end of January.

Georgia is an Orthodox Christian nation and observes the old Julian Calendar. So instead of celebrating Christmas on December 25 like nations that follow the Gregorian Calendar, Christmas is precisely 13 days later, on January 7.
The biggest date on Georgia’s holiday calendar is definitely December 31, which overhelm even Orthodox Christmas in terms of celebration and fanfare, but not in terms of religious significance.
This is a hangover from the Soviet period, when Christian holidays were banned and all celebrations were deferred to a secular date and, in fact, other former Soviet countries still celebrate on this day as well.
Interestingly, December 25 is not a national holiday nor a day of religious significance for Orthodox Christians, thus for most people it goes by without any fuss.

Though not technically associated with Christmas, St. Barbara’s Day (Barbaroba) falls right around the time that holiday celebrations start.
According to Georgian folk tradition, it’s customary to bake and eat Lobiani (bean pie) on this day, considered a ‘day of destiny’, or a time to reflect on the past year’s triumphs and shortcomings in preparation for the new year ahead.
Christmas kicks off in Tbilisi around December 10-15 when elaborate light displays are set up.
The Christmas markets are held almost in every corner of the capital city, where local entrepreneurs and start-ups sell their handicraft items and souvenirs, Christmas treats, street food, Georgian candies and mulled wine.
Set up on First Republic Square, near Rustaveli Avenue, the location hosts visitors of all ages for theatre shows, music performances, puppet theatre, open-air movie-show, wood huts, decorated with colourful bright lights, and more.
And, of course, a gorgeous Christmas tree.

The annual Christmas events, usually last throughout December.
While most of us know January 1st as New Year’s Day, in Georgia it’s Mekvleloba.
It begins at midnight with an old superstition: your first guest of the new year, the first person to cross the threshold of your home will determine your fate for the year ahead.
Bedoba, celebrated on January 2, is the “day of luck” or “day of fate”, and sets the tone for the year ahead. It must be spent in a way that’s meaningful to you. Essentially, whatever happens to you on Bedoba will dictate how the rest of your year pans out!
Basically, it is a day for self-care when you should do the things you love and spend time with the people you value most. Eat your favourite food, drink good wine, or pamper yourself with something you like.
On the night before Orthodox Christmas, on January 6, Georgians traditionally light candles and place them next to their windows so the light can be seen from the street. This tradition is a homage to Joseph and Mary – a guiding light to help them in their search for shelter, while midnight liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral is led by the Georgian Patriarch and lasts until 5 or 6am on January 7th.
The main event of Christmas day is the Alilo Parade, a religious procession that sees thousands of people march in unison down the city’s streets, dressed in special robes and carrying Georgian flags, crucifixes and other icons.
Different churches walk through the streets of Tbilisi, collecting food and sweets, which are later distributed to the people in need and orphanages.

Orthodox New Year or ‘Old New Year’ falls a week after Orthodox Christmas, on January 14 and it is not an official holiday in Georgia while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Epiphany commemorates Jesus’ baptism and also marks the official end of the festive period in Georgia.
January 19 is the deadline to take down your Christmas decorations, and lights and markets in Tbilisi are gone by this date.
But there’s one more ritual to take care of: The burning of one’s Chichilaki!
The Chichilaki represents a Georgian traditional Christmas tree made from dried hazelnut or walnut branches that are shaved to form a small coniferous tree.
While most people pack away their Christmas trees at the end of holidays, Georgians set theirs on fire. Torching the Chichilaki on Epiphany Eve symbolises letting go of one’s troubles and misfortunes and welcoming in fresh beginnings.

Tip: To wish someone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Georgian, you can say Gilotsav shoba-akhal tsels. Or a shorter version for Merry Christmas in Georgian: Gilotsavt shobas!

Images from web – Google Research

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