This year the holidays were a little different for me; I was overseas for both Christmas and New Year’s. We had a game on December 28th so I wasn't able to go home for Christmas and then we had a short break, but I decided to stay here to celebrate New Year’s. I definitely missed being around my family and that's been the toughest part about playing overseas, but it is part of the job. For my first post of 2019, I wanted to talk about some of the holiday traditions of Georgia and how they are similar as well as different than the ones from the US. I am so glad I got to experience how a different culture celebrates the holiday season!
The biggest difference I came to find out was that in Georgia they celebrate Christmas on January 7. The reason for this is that Georgia is part of the Orthodox Church which follows the Julian Calendar for their festivals. So, when the 25th came and it was Christmas back in the US, it was just another day here. I had practice in the morning and then because I wanted to have the closest thing to an American Christmas dinner, I went to KFC :)
When I asked one of my teammates what other traditions they had on Christmas day, he told me that they have a traditional Christmas Day march called the Alilo. This is where people in religious costumes walk through the streets of Georgian cities, collecting food, sweets, and gifts and sing traditional Georgian Christmas songs. The presents are then gathered in a church where Christmas service is conducted. After the service, the food and the presents are distributed to orphanages, nursing houses, and penitentiaries. I think that it is pretty cool that on a day where back home, we mostly focus on what gifts and toys we are getting, they look to help out those in need.
They also have a traditional Christmas tree that is much different from the type of Christmas tree most people have in their homes in the US. Their Christmas tree is called a Chichilaki. It's made of dried wood, such as hazelnut or walnut branches, which are shaved into long curly strips to form a small tree. They are often decorated with small fruits and berries. Georgians believe that the shaved tree resembles the famous beard of St. Basil the Great, who is thought to visit people during Christmas similar to the Santa Claus tradition. It is also believed that the chichilakis represent the tree of life, a symbol of hope for the Georgians. The chichilakis are then ceremoniously burned on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany on January 19th to symbolize the passing of the previous year's troubles.
Georgia also goes all out when it comes to Christmas lights and decorations. They were featured as one of the best Christmas lights around the world in CNN's report of Top Christmas Lights Around the World. Walking through the city at night time and seeing all the lights was one of the most beautiful things I've seen in my life and I was very impressed on how creative they were to make it look great!
The next big holiday in Georgia I was able to experience was New Year's Eve. This is when people open presents and give gifts similar to our Christmas. It is also a big day of celebration similar to ours. I was out in the city for it and had a great time! They had a concert in the middle of the city and when the clock hit 12 there were tons of fireworks going off all around. People would also light fireworks in the street and you had to pay attention when you were walking, or you might run into a firework that someone might have just thrown which almost happened to me a couple of times! The New Year’s firework display was included in Yahoo's "New Year’s Celebration Light the Skies Around the World." If you celebrate the New Years at home, there is the tradition of looking for someone right after 12 called the Mekvle. This is the person who is the first to congratulate the New Year. He or she may be from the family or a friend that has had good fortune, health, wealth, has parents or children, or is not in mourning. Everyone eagerly waits for this person to come through the door after midnight throwing candy and sweets. It means that that year will be sweet and spent in harmony and peace.
The last big Georgian holiday that I have yet to experience is on January 14th and is called "Old New Year" As one of my teammates told me, Georgians love any chance they get to celebrate! This is when the true New Year starts according to the Julian calendar. While this is not as festive as the first New Year Celebration, it's still a time where people get together, enjoy food, drink, and each other's company.
While I would have loved to be home for the holiday's, I'm glad I got to experience different holiday traditions. That has been one of the blessings of playing overseas and learning about a different culture and seeing the similarities and differences. Learning about Georgian culture from my teammates and others from Georgia as well as teaching them about American culture has been great because both sides have been able to learn and grow from it and it's helped me embrace my experience even more.