Yozgat (town), 2nd August 1900. Centre, left to right: Bishop Torigian, Rev Ghevont Tursarkisian (prelate of Yozgat) (Tarian/Yerganian, op. cit.)

Yozgat - Festivals

Author: Ed Grigoryan, 19/9/12 (Last modified 19/9/12)- Translator: Ara Melkonian

The Armenian population of the Yozgat region give great importance to traditional Armenian festivals and always marks each of them with great pomp. These festivals and ceremonies are often endowed with unique characteristics that, in their external forms, can differ according to the village, town or the region’s geographical location.

The Sahagian family from Yozgat

The Sahagian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], Beirut, 1988)

New Year (Agamor, Gaghant, Amanor)

Agamor (New Year, Gaghant) is a pre-Christian festival, and a superstition that has become traditional rules that, according to which the way this particular day starts, so the year will continue. That is the reason that the Armenians of the Yozgat region try to be happy and to spend the day with richness. First they make many pastries with unleavened flour, among which the khop and madj (ploughshare, plough handle) have to be made to look like the tools symbolising the work carried out in the village economy. The unleavened flour is made into dough without salt and oil; the resulting pastries are made into round, bread-like cakes, or crescent shapes. The tops are brushed with raw egg and various designs are scratched into them with a fork. Finally they are sprinkled with cheoreg otu (çörek otu, the black seeds of the nigella plant). The woman making these pastries secretes, without fail, a coin in one of them. On New Year’s Day the person that finds the coin is considered to be lucky. The people of Yozgat call these New Year unleavened flour pastries bak-has (fasting bread) instead of udik-has (bread eaten on ordinary days). [1]

It is the custom for the Armenian woman of Yozgat to take up needle and thread in the early hours of the first day of the new year and sew a few stitches. This ceremony is called Hutayin ashge banel (sewing Judas’ eye). Everyone is convinced that without doing this Judas will do harm to the individual and his family during the coming year.
After this, and still in the early hours of the morning, the young girls and newly-married women of Yozgat go to get osge chur (gold water) with their pitchers. This is the name given to the water brought from the fountain on that solemn day. Each person tries to reach it first, as it is thought that the first water taken from the fountain on the day will fill the owner’s pitcher with liquid gold. The girls take unleavened pastries with them, made the day before, so that they may exchange them with each other near the fountain. It is an absolute condition that they are exchanged with the first person they meet, without them being chosen. The women also take some ash and a handful of barley taken from their store, which the sprinkle in the fountain’s current, and say:

Take this barley, give us good
or
Take this
komur (ash), give us omur (life).

A general view of the town of Yozgat (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

Then they sprinkle the exchanged pastries with water and return home. It is also the custom to give some of the pastries to the domestic animals, mixing pieces of them in their food. They jokingly call this ‘the animals Easter’. [2]
This early morning visit to the fountain custom continues, in the Armenian-populated village of Burunkeshla (Burunkışla) in the Boğazlıyan kaza (sub-district), with merry-making. Young men join the women and girls at the fountain, light fires on the snow and dance circle dances, singing and enjoying themselves until dawn. When they return to their homes, they congratulate the family in the house and receive fatherly blessings. It is then that the unleavened pastries are equally divided between the family members. [3]
Another festival is celebrated at New Year – the mouse festival. The grandmothers and elderly women in the house spread some ordinary or roasted wheat, barley or other grain near mouse holes in the house, so the mice can have their own festival and not act badly towards the family by chewing clothing or stealing grain during the year. [4]
In the small town of Rumdigin (currently Felahiye) in the kaza of Boğazlıyan in the Yozgat region every family, including the men, visits every other one and gives congratulations, saying:

Zinavor New Year, Happy New Year
With loved ones, with friends.

These visits continue all day and visitors are entertained with wine and rich tables of food. [5]

Christmas

Despite the cold weather, all the faithful Armenians of the Yozgat region go to the churches in dense crowds to be present at the day’s ceremonies. After the morning service, people visit one another and give good wishes for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve in Bozuk village (in the sandjak of Chorum), as in other Armenian-inhabited areas, the young people go from roof to roof and door to door and collect gifts in the bags they carry. On this occasion they sing in Turkish:

Bugün Krisdos doğdu, avedis.
Bütün cihan şağ oldu, avedis.
Melaikler gökden indi, avedis.


The translation:

Christ was born today, good news,
The heavens were filled with glory, good news,
The angels descended from heaven, good news!


The song then continues:

Today is the celebration of Christmas, good news
Of the appearance of Our Lord, good news,
Justice shone forth today, good news!
[6]

Ovsanna Shoghodian from Rumdigin (currently Felahiye) village (Source: Haigazun Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin [in Armenian], Beirut, 1967)

Christmas in Burunkışla village is characterised by the presence of the choir of school children conducted by the teacher of the local school. Made up of about 20 children wearing white cassocks, they spend Christmas Eve until the early hours of Christmas Day going from house to house, singing religious songs and canticles (sharagans), giving the news of Christ’s birth. The families that welcome them in give them, as gifts, money, butter, syrup and cracked wheat.
On this day the local church is full of the faithful. Ignoring the cold, all of them, as a sign of respect, take their shoes off at the door and then enter the church. Inside, the floors are spread with carpets and rugs; there are no chairs and every sits down cross-legged on the floor. The area allotted to the men extends from the door to the chancel, with the women going up to the gallery. [7]
In Rumdigin every family prepares a cake (kata) and a pogegh bread. The flour used for the cake is the finest and dough is made using eggs, oil and milk. Making it into a ball, plenty of a mixture of flour and sugar (khoris or khoriz) is added and it is then rolled out, the edges are made decorative, egg yolk is wiped over it and it put into the oven. As for the poghegh, is made with sesame paste, without the khoris mixture being added. Raisins are added here and there and it then put into the oven to cook.
After preparing the cake and the pogegh bread, raisins, ground chickpeas (leblebu), walnuts, dried apricots, apricot sheets, strings of walnuts covered with dried grape juice (sharots, cevizli sucuk, rodjig) and several other kinds of dried fruit are brought out.
The young people, knowing about all this, prepare a pointed, hooked piece of metal, tie a coloured handkerchief to it and add several metres of string to the other end. Armed with this, they go from one roof to the next on the evening of the Lighting of the Lamps (khetum), lowering the metal implement down the chimney, welcoming Christmas and saying:

Christ was born and made known to us, news. Hang my cake!

The lady of the house or the grandmother, hearing this news of Christmas, hurries to fill the handkerchief dangling from the chimney with cake and dried fruit. The young people then joyfully draw it up and go to other roofs, gathering Christmas gifts from the chimneys.
The church bell begins to toll just after midnight and the faithful people hurry there. At the end of the service, leaving the church, they return home, greeting each other with ‘Christ is born and made known to us’.
The older people of the house, having returned home, settle themselves in the reception room, while the children of the family, boys, girls and newly-married daughters-in-law first kiss their hands, then receive their presents. In accordance with custom, the newly-married daughters-in-law receive a gold coin as a gift to be hung on the chest or forehead.
The men and youths then come out of the houses and, forming groups, congratulate each other for Christmas. [8]

Festival of the Forty Innocents (Forty Lamps)

The feast of the forty innocents is one of the most widespread and respected Armenian festivals in the Yozgat region. It has different names in different villages. For example, in Boğazlıyan it is called Karasundjirak (Forty Lamps), while in Chat/Çat village its name is Karasunmanug (Forty Innocents). The festival is especially noted by young girls who, after the church service, get together in a house and enjoy themselves. On this occasion they make khavidz, [9] halva and they only eat food prepared with oil from plants, otherwise their fasting is ended. The festival occurs on the Sunday in the middle of Lent. [10]

Presentation of Our Lord in the temple (Derindas, Derndadz, Derindes, Diarnentarach)

Derindas is a happy day for the Armenians of the Yozgat region, especially for the children and young people who, after jumping over fires with some energy and pleasure, fill tin torch holders that are fixed to the ends of poles with markh, lighting them from the fires and organising torchlight processions down the streets. Markh is the glue extract of coniferous trees that has the property of being easily ignited. [11]
On the eve of this festival every roof in Rumdigin village had a pile of kindling ready for burning. After the church service, these piles are lit and the tongues of flame ascend. The young men and girls do circle dances round them and, encouraging one another, excitedly jump over the fires. They also make young children join them in this game, in order to teach them to be fearless.
It is a custom in Yozgat for newly married girls or young married women generally to circle round these traditional fires. These Presentation of Christ to the temple festival fires are the worship of the invisible flames that, once a year, become present with these fires in Armenian regions. Newly married girls believe that, by circling these fires, their lives will be happy. On this occasion, according to local tradition, the newly married girls distribute raisins and boiled wheat to their neighbours.
In Boğazlıyan it is also the custom to keep a handful of the ashes from the Derindas fires and sprinkle them in all four corners of the roof. They believe that by doing this they will prevent evil spirits (kankesh) from entering the house. It is also thought that the lighting of the Derindas fires on the roofs is connected to the intention of getting rid of the kankesh from the family home as, according to popular belief, the evil spirits’ stomachs and feet burn in these flames. [12]

Yozgat. An Armenian family. Standing, left to right: small boy’s name not known, Hovhannes Babayigitian, Harutiun Babayigitian, Aghavni Babayigitian (Hovhannes’ wife), small boy’s name not known. Seated, left to right: Hadji Zakar Babayigitian, Hadji Zakar’s wife (name not known) (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, op. cit.)

Paregentan

This is the day of parties, entertainment and eating and drinking - the day before Lent. The tables will be especially full of food, bearing in mind that the following day is the first day of fasting for seven weeks.
In the village of Burunkışla, some of the most delicious dishes served on this occasion are chicken, turkey, lamb and many kinds of pastry and cakes. [13]

Yozgat. An Armenian family. Adults standing: Mr and Mrs Sarkis and Makrouhi Enfiedjian, Mr and Mrs Hagop and Anush Enfiedjian (Hagop is Sarkis’ brother). Seated: Sarkis’ and Hagop’s parents (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, op. cit.)

Lent

These weeks of fasting must, at the same time, also be those of peace, reconciliation and toleration. Thus in the Armenian-populated villages of the Yozgat region it is the custom during this period to have existing disputes and vengeance sorted out by the priests and the village elders.
In Rumdigin Lent is known as medzbak (Great Fast).
The villager doesn’t have a festival or ordinary calendar and has adopted a particular way of marking the passing of the weeks. Now the house windows are mostly in the ceiling. The grandmother or lady of the house, getting a large onion, pushes seven chicken or rooster feathers into it, pushes a rod through it and hangs it by a string next to the window. The onion and feather ensemble is known as medzbak. As each week passes, a feather is removed from it until, with the last one’s removal, Lent comes to an end and it is Easter. Often, when the onion sprouts, it is considered that they year will be one of goodness and plenty. In Yozgat town and the villages of Bozuk and Burunkışla they call that onion a khlodjig. It is hung from the bake-house ceiling and is often used to frighten children who want to give up fasting. Every time a gentle breeze blows, the khlodjig sways; the older household members convince the children that it is a living being, a devil that watches everything that happens in the home very closely, especially what the children do. Little boys and girls also believe that those who don’t keep to the khlodjig fast will have their eyes gouged out. It is only on the day before Easter that the last feather is removed and the onion itself is thrown out of the bake-house. It is then given to the children who take great pleasure in stamping on and squashing it.... [14]

The Barigian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, op. cit.)

Palm Sunday (Dejgineg, Dzaghgazart)

Palm Sunday is called Dejgineg in Rumdigin dialect. In that small town the same name is given to canes made from fresh willow branches. On this day each young man cuts off a willow tree branch about 1m (3 feet) long and removes its bark. He then cuts the bark into a strip about a finger’s width and winds it diagonally around the cleaned cane, leaving areas of the white branch wood showing. He then holds it over a smoky fire. A short time later he removes the bark and is left with a handsome cane with a black and white pattern on it.
With this cane in their hands, young men go from house to house, always repeating the same words: ‘Mamu-mamu (grandmother), give me an egg from under your chicken.’
These have already been prepared for the egg-cracking games played at Easter. [15]

Chorum/Çorum (Ankara vilayet), 1904. Representatives of the Armenian community

Chorum/Çorum (Ankara vilayet), 1904. Representatives of the Armenian community (Source: Nubarian Library collection)

Easter

In the transformed spring climate, Easter is the festival that gives joy. The difficult days of winter have passed, the long fast of Lent has ended, nature has once more flowered and everywhere is green. These natural changes form a sort of mirror to the Easter merry-making and celebrations.
On Easter Sunday the faithful Armenians of Yozgat are present at the church service. On this day, the mas (unleavened bread) distributed in the church must definitely be received and eaten, as the people are convinced that otherwise everything they do will go wrong. After the service they return home, where they begin the long-awaited feasting; it lasts until late in the evening. In that season of the year, with the nature’s re-awakening and the spring flowers, children, adolescents, young girls and boys, all dressed in colourful clothes, fill the gardens and fields, where they play egg-cracking games and dance to pipes and drums, while the adults exchange visits, giving the news of Christ’s resurrection.
The red-coloured eggs and the egg-cracking games played everywhere are the most notable things to be seen in these Easter celebrations. In the case of the Yozgat region, it is said that the neighbouring Turks join the Armenians in this joy and amusement. A local Turkish saying is: ‘Until you find red Armenian eggshells on the ground, spring hasn’t arrived’. [16]

The Karalian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, op. cit.)

Ascension

Ascension is celebrated 40 days after Easter. In Rumdigin the celebration is given the name Vidjag (Lottery). Each quarter has its own field outside the village where the people gather to dance and sing and draw lots on this occasion. It is here, on this festival, a great crowd assembles, and feasting, music, dancing, singing and various games take place. [17]

Yozgat: panorama (Source: H. M. Eprigian, Illustrated Indegenous Dictionary (in Armenian), Part 1, Venice, St Lazzaro, 1900)

Transfiguration (Vartavar)

This festival is a joyful occasion linked with water. In every quarter young people, newly married women, girls and young men wet each other with water with the greatest pleasure. They spare neither people dressed simply nor those in festival wear. It is Vartavar, so no one has the right to be angry or upset. The game of sprinkling water starts early in the morning until the sun has reached its zenith, when everyone, wet, dry-mouthed and tired returns home. In this summer festival it is the custom, among the Armenians of Yozgat, to go on a pilgrimage to the monasteries near where they live. Others spend this day in the vineyards, where the atmosphere is one of happiness and enjoyment. There is a special dance song sung in the Yozgat region especially on this occasion by girls and boys together. The Armenian version of this song has reached us, but we cannot be sure that it is true to the original, or whether it is simply a translation from Turkish:

Hey Vartavar! Ho Vartavar!
Give me my wish or take my soul,
Give me my wish or take my soul.

Girl, for the sake of your eyes,
I’ll be a shepherd in your fields,
I’ll be a shepherd in your fields.

Hey Vartavar! Ho Vartavar!
Give me my wish or take my soul,
Give me my wish or take my soul.


Boy, if I was your waist belt,
I’d go back and forth before your door,
I’d go back and forth before your door.

Girl, for the sake of your hair,
I’ll be your home’s protector,
I’ll be your home’s protector.

Girl, why are you so badly shy,
The youth loves the brave,
The youth loves the brave.

Boy, I love your days and sun,
I’ll bring flowers from seven mountains,
I’ll bring flowers from seven mountains.

Boy, I would die for a lock of your hair,
I am a prisoner of your deer-height,
I am a prisoner of your deer-height.
[18]

Boghazlian (Boğazlıyan). The church of the Holy Mother of God

Boghazlian (Boğazlıyan). The church of the Holy Mother of God (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, op. cit.)

Holy Mother of God (Surp Asdvadzadzin)

This festival takes place in the middle of August, and is characterised by the blessing of grapes. It is celebrated in the Yozgat region with great solemnity in all the churches. It should be noted that viticulture is very widespread among the Armenians of the region and grape production plays an important part in the local economy. A part of the local grape crop is exported, while an important quantity is used to make roub (grape syrup). Perhaps this is the reason why the feast of the Holy Mother of God has, within this area, become one of the most important festivals, and many Armenian churches are dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. On this day vast crowds of people follow the church service. Until this day of the year, no one may eat grapes.
This festival is celebrated with great pomp in Rumdigin village. The faithful bring home a bunch of grapes from the church after the service, then by donkey, horse or ox carts they go the vineyards– Budjak, Bagharsekh and Dobur Djale - on the banks of the Kızılırmak (Halys) River. There, feasting, singing and dancing and firing of guns last for two to three days. The local Turks call this festival oghlakh gheran (oğlak kıran), as the Armenians, on this occasion, sacrifice many goats and cook them as madagh. [19]
The small Armenian-inhabited town of Uzunlu (in the Boğazlıyan district) is well known for its vineyards. There too this festival is celebrated with great ceremony. The priests and choir, forming a procession, go through the vineyards, singing canticles, burning incense and blessing them. Then the merry-making continues there; the young people dance circle dances, they sing, others prepare the madagh meal, usually made from mutton or goat’s meat. Often the neighbouring Turks join the Armenians in these festivities. They also ask the priests to bless their vineyards too. [20]

Cross

This festival takes place in the Rumdigin that we know in the autumn, when all the activities linked to the harvest, grape harvesting and preparation of roub are completed. The Cross festival in a sense puts the final full stop to the year’s heavy agricultural work, bearing in mind that it is followed by winter, during which the villager remains in his home. [21]

  • [1] Armen Tarian, Antranig Yerganian (editors), History of Armenian Yozgat and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], a publication of the Yozgad and Region Compatriotic Society, Beirut, 1988, p. 148.
  • [2] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.) History of…, p. 148-149.
  • [3] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.) History of…, p. 132.
  • [4] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.) History of…, p. 149.
  • [5] Haigazun H Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin [in Armenian], a publication of the Rumdigin Compatriotic Society, Adlas, Beirut, 1967, pp. 57-59.
  • [6] Tarian, Yerganian, (eds.) History of…, p. 130; Nuritsa M Pilibosian, Avedis Kesdekian (A. Gabents), Vahé Haig, A Memorial to the People of Yozghad (Yozgat) [in Armenian], Fresno, 1955, pp. 104-105.
  • [7] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 132.
  • [8] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p. 57-58.
  • [9] This sweet is prepared by frying flour in boiling oil, then adding boiled sugar syrup on top of it.
  • [10] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 149.
  • [11] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 151.
  • [12] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 152; Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p 59.
  • [13] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 133.
  • [14] Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, pp. 130-131; Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p. 60 ; Pilibosian, Gabents, Haig, A memorial to the people... pp. 105-106.
  • [15] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p. 60-61.
  • [16] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p. 61; Pilibosian, Gabents, Haig, A memorial to the People..., pp. 105-106; Tarian, Yerganian (eds.), History of…, p. 133։
  • [17] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, pp. 61-62.
  • [18] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, pp. 62-63; Pilibosian, Gabents, Haig, A memorial to the People..., pp. 106-107։
  • [19] Pilibosian, Gabents, Haig, A memorial to the People... pp. 106; Yapudjian, Memorial to…, p. 63 ; Tarian, Yerganian, (eds.), History of…, p. 131։
  • [20] Tarian, Yerganian, (eds.), History of…, p. 96։
  • [21] Yapudjian, Memorial to…, pp. 64-65.