My dear friend Tika agreed to share the traditions and foods that make Christmas in Georgia unique. Thank you Tika!
Georgia is a transcontinental country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, in the Caucasus Mountains. It is bordered by the Black Sea to the west, Russia in the north, the southeast by Azerbaijan, and Turkey to the south.
The long awaited Christmas and New Year celebrations usually start all over Georgia on 20th of December illuminating streets and lightning Christmas trees. Though, most Georgians celebrate Christmas according to Orthodox tradition on 7th of January, but Christmas fairs and festive events start earlier in December.
Feasting! Traditional Food for Christmas in Georgia
A big feast is the central part of any Georgian holiday—it shows hospitality, love to family, friends, and guests. On New Year’s Eve, Georgian festive tables weigh down under the abundance of the most scrumptious and addictive Georgian cuisine. Savory satzivi (turkey with walnut sauce), mouth-watering khachapuri (cheese pie), delicious mtsvadi – Georgian barbeque, eggplant walnut rollups, spinach walnut dip with pomegranate will whet your appetite for more. A symbolical tabla, a small tray with sweets, is served separately.
Traditional Georgian sweets for New Year and Christmas are gozinaki (honey walnut candy) and churchkhela ( grapes juice walnut candy) Delicious homemade Georgian wines, warmest wishes for the Christmas & New Year, awe inspiring famous Georgian polyphonic singing will make a very nice addition to Georgian feast.
Two traditional dishes from Christmas in Georgia are pork and turkey. On the left we have grilled piglets cooked in a Georgian style with herbs, and on the right is a savory satzivi (turkey with walnut sauce):
Traditional desserts eaten during Christmas in Georgia include gozinaki (honey walnut candy on the left), and churchkhela (grapes juice walnut candy on the right):
According to Orthodox tradition, celebration of Christmas starts on the night from January 6th to January 7th and takes place in churches where a festive public service lasts all night.
On Christmas night, candles are lit and put in the window so they can be seen from outside, to commemorate the events described in the Bible, when Joseph and Mary were seeking shelter to give birth to their son. Children go round carol-singing with baskets and bags. They are expected and greeted in every family with enormous joy and are generously treated. After traditional carol a festive walking ceremony called “Alilo” makes its way throughout Georgia collecting funds for charities. Procession participants wear national costumes, while some depicted Biblical characters from the nativity story, dressing up as shepherds and religious figures.
Since for many Georgians Christmas means the end of a period of fasting, there are all kinds of delicacies on the festive table. Khachapuri with eggs (called “pie from Guria”) is an integral part of Georgian culinary tradition on Christmas day. You will find the recipe at the end of this article.
Unique Traditions for New Year and Christmas in Georgia
The traditional Georgian Christmas tree, called chichilaki in Georgian, is not green. Georgians have been making the Georgian-style Christmas tree since ancient times. Environmentally friendly Chichilaki originated in the provinces of Guria and Samegrelo, the western part of the country. Chichilaki was decorated with the two bow-shaped items called Kalpi and Bokeri. Kalpi was made from ivy leafs and Bokeli was a bread baked with eggs, flour, and cheese both as the symbols of life and fertility.
At first sight, nutwood twigs with long fluffy shavings may seem quite unattractive if you are used to lush green, fir-tree branches. The curly shavings, which the master removes moving upwards from the bottom, are called basila in honor of St. Basily’s beard, the patron saint of animals and harbinger of new happiness. A wooden cross is usually attached to the top of the chichilaki and the tree itself is invariably decorated elegantly with fruits, berries and flowers. Unfortunately, this beauty doesn’t stay long: after the holidays, people burn their trees, symbolizing that the previous year’s misfortunes go up in smoke.
More familiar Christmas concepts have a place in Georgian festivities, as well. Santa Claus, known as tovlis bubua (Grandpa Snow), is usually depicted wearing traditional Georgian clothes and a fur cloak called a nabadi. Although Grandpa Snow doesn’t have reindeer, but he still is believed to visit homes on Christmas Eve, leaving presents for the children.
Mekvele is another typically Georgian New Year’s tradition. The first person to come into one’s house on New Year’s with “happy feet’ symbolically brings in joy and prosperity. He or she is showered with candies and in return presents the hosts a basket with delicacies wishing the upcoming year to be satisfying and sweet. Those said to have “happy feet” are invited to Georgian households to provide good luck for the family.
Georgian Traditional Christmas Pie Recipe
Leavened dough 1 kg
Cheese – 800 grams (the one that is used for cooking khachapuri)
Hard-boiled eggs 2
1 egg to grease the surface of the pie
Pie can be of any shape, but mostly it is oval or half moon. Divide the dough into balls and leave it to rest for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile remove the shell from hard boiled eggs and cut into half or more pieces. Grind cheese.
Roll the dough. If you are making a pie of half moon shape, put cheese and eggs on one part of dough and then cover it with another part of dough. You can prepare pie right on a baking sheet. Place the flattened dough on baking sheet and put the filling on it. Before putting the pie into oven, grease it with a whipped egg. Cook at 180 C- 200 C for 20 – 25 minutes.
In Georgian Merry Christmas and Happy New Year is “გილოცავთ დამდეგ შობა ახალ წელს!” and translates word for word as “Greetings with upcoming Christmas New Year”.
I guarantee you will learn at least one new fact about the fascinating country of Georgia after watching this incredible video made by Tika Tours!
Tika Svanidze Vancko is the founder of TikaTours, a Luxury Tour Operator offering life-changing experiential travel to Georgia and the Caucasus. Born and raised in Tbilisi, Tika studied law and worked in the Netherlands before living in Singapore, Chicago, and Switzerland. Tika currently resides in Amsterdam with her husband and three boys. Her latest projects are the establishment of Unique Georgia, an NGO supporting development in Georgia, and various partnerships in Europe and the USA to improve tourism infrastructure and education in Georgia.