Reverent attitude to this pagan holiday unites all Abkhazians irrespective of their religious beliefs
January 14 is an official day-off in Abkhazian calendar. The holiday, itself, is referred to as Azhyrnykhua – the holiday of forge, rather than the old style New Year, as it is called in other countries.
There are Christians, Muslims, atheists in my family, but we all mark Azhyrnykhua together in our hearthside.
Every year, on January 13 (this year is not an exclusion either), having loaded into a car all the household members, I travel to Khuap village. I am the first who comes to my family home at the bottom of the mountains. Here my father was born and my cousin Aslan lives in this house now. Other members of the family usually come within an hour, we have a rest and then start preparing for the celebration.
Regrettably, we had a bad luck with the weather this year. It had been raining since the very morning, though usually it snows in Khuap on this day. It had been snowing in Abkhazia during the New Year night, but the snow melted by the old-style New Year. Thus, we had to carry out the major preparation works in the rain.
Azhyrnykhua is marked by each family according to its tradition. But, as a rule, these traditions depend on the presence or absence of Azhyry (holly forge) in the family hearthside. There is such a forge in my family, thus, the celebration ritual was conducted all out.
On this day we always sacrifice an ox and also slaughter roosters – as many of them as the number of female members in the family. While men are dressing the meat and cooking the grits in a large caldron, women are making cheese and walnut pies; girls are doing the rooms, cleaning the yards and laying the tables.
Everybody knows his or her duties and they needn’t be reminded about them. I know them too. As I am not good in dressing meat or cooking grits (they are done by professionals), I use all my efforts to make some candles. It takes me two hours to make one big candle for Azhyry and fifteen smaller candles for each female member in the family from a large piece of wax. By the way, I have also to whittle a pin from the walnut tree branch. It should be noted that it is a very important detail and I will tell about it below.
When all preparations are over and twilight is downing, the main ceremony of the festivity begins – the male members of the family go to Azhyra, which is located in the garden. The girls also attend the praying ceremony as an exception. Aslan – the head of the household, has been our family priest for two years. He is authorized to appeal to the Lord in the Highest for patronizing our family. Besides, Aslan will ask to bestow peace and prosperity for the family, the nation and people of the world. Being the family priest, he, on behalf of the whole family, assumes a commitment to live in a right way – in all fairness.
Aslan will be holding a pin, which I have whittled from the nut tree branch, in the left hand. According to a rite, several pies, a heart and a liver of the offering bull will stringed on the pin. There will be a glass of wine in Aslan’s right hand. He will propose a toast-appeal, make a sip from the glass and pass it over to the other members of the family. Each member will make a sip from this glass and the wine from the glass should be enough for all members, including the youngest – five year-old Danat, a grandson of my cousin Harry.
The following toasts are proposed in the more relaxed situation, when each person, who is being toasted, drinks to the bottom. The toasts are proposed to the Motherland, the nation, to the elders and the children. The event in the smithy takes less than an hour. Usually, it is accustomed to shoot a gun when leaving Azhyra, since recent times fireworks have also become popular. This time we did not display the fireworks given a burial ceremony of a local resident to avoid noisy effects.
In the morning, having visited all the neighbors and congratulated them on the holiday and hosting them at home, we took a traditional memory photo of the whole family. By the way, don’t look for me in the photo, I was a person, who pressed the button.