Christmas in Georgia

In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January. This is because the Georgian Orthodox Church (like the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Serbia and other countries) use the old 'Julian' calendar for their festivals.

On Christmas Day, many people will go on a 'Alilo', a parade in the streets. They are dressed in special clothes and costumes to celebrate Christmas. Some people carry Georgian flags and others might be dressed as people from the Christmas story. Children like taking part in the Alilo as they're often given sweets!

Carols are sung and they vary across the country. Many of the songs and carols sung during the Alilo include these words: “ოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა, ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემსაო’” (otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao) which means “on 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem”.

The Alilo in 2008
The Alilo in 2008, via Wikimedia Commons

In Georgian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'გილოცავ შობა-ახალ წელს' (gilocav shoba-akhal c’els). Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

The traditional Georgian Christmas Tree is called a 'Chichilaki' (ჩიჩილაკი). It's made of dried wood, such as hazelnut or walnut branches, which are shaved into long curly strips to form a small tree. Some people say they look like the long white curly beard of St Basil the Great! They are decorated with small fruits and sweets. They are traditionally burnt on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany (19th January). This is meant to mark the end of the year's troubles. 'Western' Christmas Tree (nadzvis khe) are also popular.

People get their presents on New Year's Eve (December 31st). Presents are traditionally brought to children by "Tovlis Papa" (or tovlis babua in western Georgian dialects) which means “Grandfather snow”. He normally wears all white clothing including a hat and a cape/cloak called a “nabadi”. The cloak is heavy and very warm as it's made of white sheep's wool. Shepherds were them in darker colors, but Tovlis Papa has to wear a white one!

On New Year's eve he comes down from the mountains of the Caucasus and walks around Georgia to deliver treats and sweets to all the children in Georgia. Children leave out "Churchkhela" a delicious treat made of walnuts and grape juice, which is shaped like a sausage, for Tovlis Papa. Santa is also often called "Tovlis Papa", but the real "Tovlis Papa" does not mind, he's chill like the mountains he lives in!