The article is adapted and translated by Christina Hayrapetyan from the book “Armenian National Holidays” by Hranush Kharatyan-Arakelyan (Yerevan, Armenia 2000).
In pagan Armenia the New Year was celebrated on August 11. The feast was called Navasard.
Ancient sources bear out that Navasard-New Year was adorned with solemn and splendid festivities, which lasted several days. There were carnivals, cavalcades, various games with participation of the king, noblemen and plain folk. Various open-air celebrations were often held at night around the fire at holy shrines.
Many legends have been told about this most beloved feast; it is said that on this very day our forefather Hayk had a stunning victory over his enemy Bel and gave start to the history of Armenians. It was also believed that this day Noah’s Arc landed on the peak of Mount Ararat, and so the yearly celebrations of Navasard-New Year were to reconfirm the beginning of the new era of humanity.
After the adoption of Christianity in Armenia this feast, along with many others, was officially reformed. The pagan temples were destroyed, the known celebrations and pilgrimages were forbidden. Navasard found its place neither in the church nor in civic calendar, but the people didn’t forget their tradition and they kept celebrating it for many centuries, but this time on the first Sunday after November 10. A question may rise:
Why in November?
Because it marks the end of farming year, the harvest is over, the storehouses are full and the cattle is not put out to pasture any more. That’s why this holiday started to be called also as Nakhratogh (release the cattle).
Till the beginning of the 20th century in some regions of Armenia people used to celebrate two New Years; the national Navasard-Nakhratogh in November and the official one on January 1. These celebrations of Navasard were, of course, different from the ones held by our ancestors. No pilgrimages were organized and the feast was celebrated at home with family and relatives.
On Saturday evening the table was decorated with dried and fresh fruits, nuts and pastry. The same night some cheerful groups of young boys of 10-12 years old used to stroll along the villages singing and demanding goods by hanging socks through the lucarnes (erdik – something like a dormer window). The socks were, of course, filled with sweets by the hosts.
It was also usual to throw nuts, fruits and baked goods through the relatives’ lucarnes.
The main dish of the holiday was called “Korkot” or “Qyashka” (“Harisa” in Yerevan). They put wheat and meat in layers into a big saucepan and placed it on a quiet fire in “tonir” (underground earthen oven). Qyashka was left to be cooked all night long. No ladle was to touch the dish; it was to stay unstirred in order to have the forthcoming year pass peacefully and without disorders.
This dish was considered to be very powerful and those with unclear conscience didn’t deserve to eat it. Qyashka was placed on the table on Sunday early morning.
Starting from the morning everybody was to take care to provide the success and prosperity of the coming year; all water jars were to be full, no plate on the table was to be empty, the cattle was to be fed and some grain was to be scattered over the lands.
At sunrise everyone was ready to make reciprocal visits and to pass on good wishes to each other. The hosts used to strew dried fruits and raisin over the guests, while the guests were to give full trays to the hostess wishing a fertile year.