HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyz celebrate Muslim holidays — namely Ramadan (the month-long period of fasting), Eid al Fitr (the feast after the end of Ramadan) and Feast of Sacrifice (the Islamic feast marking the end of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca) — and rituals such as births, circumcision, weddings and funerals. Many Kyrgyz don’t fast during Ramadan but are ready to celebrate when it ends. Most holidays are celebrated with parties at work and at home that involve eating, drinking, dancing, and singing. Festivals often feature long distance horse races and horse-mounted sports. The wealthy host large parties to celebrate weddings and honor the dead after a funeral. In 2014, a conservative lawmaker called for a ban on Valentine's celebrations in schools, calling it the "holiday from the devil", although no ban was adopted.
Public Holidays: New Year’s (January 1), Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 7), Kurban Ait (Feast of the Sacrifice, movable date according to the Islamic calendar), International Women’s Day (March 8), Nooruz (Kyrgyz New Year, March 21), Labor Day (May 1), Victory Day (May 9), Last Bell (mid-June), Independence Day (August 31), First Bell (1 September), and Eid al Fitr (end of Ramadan, movable date according to the Islamic calendar). [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]
Kyrgyz people follow the Chinese zodiac, where each year is assigned an animal, and people whose sign is the same animal as the incoming year must wear something red and then give it away for good luck. Years are designated as years of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, fish, snake, horse, sheep, fox, chicken, dog and pig. The appearance of the new moon marks the beginning of a month, 12 months form a year and 12 years is a cycle. At the beginning of the first month of the year, the Kyrgyz celebrate a festival similar to the Spring Festival. There are also Islamic festivals. On major festivals and summer nights, old and young, men and women, gather on the pasturelands for celebrations: singing, dancing, ballad-singing, story-telling and games which include competing to snatch up a headless sheep from horseback, wrestling, horse racing, wrestling on horseback, catching objects from racing horses, horseback shooting, tug-of-war and swinging. |
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No'oruz, Persian New Year
Noovuz is a spring festival held throughout Central Asia on around vernal spring on March 21st or 22nd, which used to mark the beginning of a new year. A Muslim adaption of a pre-Islamic vernal equinox festival, it features poem reading, singing, wrestling, tug-of-wars, dancers and horseback riders. Noovuz is derived from a Persian word meaning "new." Many people dress in traditional costumes and craftsmen bring out their best work. There are many traditional foods associated with this holiday. Huge pots of sumalak (a kind of porridge), khalim (a meat stew), samsa (dumpling) and milk dough. People believe these dishes clean the body and make people friendlier. Narooz is a grand occasion to say good-bye to the old, usher in the new, and hope for a better year in stockbreeding.
The No'oruz celebration lasts for around two weeks and has links with the 3000-year-old Zoroastrianism fire rites and sacrifices to the sun. According to Kyrgyz tradition ancient Muslims of the East withheld from quarreling and sought forgiveness, honesty and general goodwill at Nooruz. The Kyrgyz, especially, set fir tree branches on fire (which they usually call 'Archa') and spread its smoke around their homes as they believed that it would keep away potential misfortune and catastrophes. They also wore soft colors like blue and white. Today, people wear often don new clothes and prefer bright colors such as red as well as white and blue.
Nowadays, during Nooruz, a special dish called 'sumolok'—porridge made from millet and barley— is cooked and gifts are exchanged between friends, relatives, neighbors. Parents give gifts to their children, close friends and to each other. Rich people usually give money, clothes and food to poor people. As this day marks the vernal equinox – the day is usually symbolized by the sun. Villagers light fires and jump over them to purify the heart, mind and soul. Congregational prayers are held for future good luck, harmony and protection from famines and other disasters. [Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]
Nooruz (also spelled Novruz, Nowrouz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz) marks the beginning of the new year for Iranians, Caucasians and the Turkic peoples. In the year 2009, Nooruz was included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is celebrated in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. In 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized March 21 as International Day of Navruz. [Source: advantour]
According to UNESCO: Nooruz marks the New Year and the beginning of spring across a vast geographical area covering, inter alia, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. It is celebrated on 21 March every year, a date originally determined by astronomical calculations. Novruz is associated with various local traditions, such as the evocation of Jamshid, a mythological king of Iran, and numerous tales and legends. The rites that accompany the festivity vary from place to place, ranging from leaping over fires and streams in Iran to tightrope walking, leaving lit candles at house doors, traditional games such as horse racing or the traditional wrestling practised in Kyrgyzstan. Songs and dances are common to almost all the regions, as are semi-sacred family or public meals. Children are the primary beneficiaries of the festivities and take part in a number of activities, such as decorating hard-boiled eggs. Women play a key role in organizing Novruz and passing on its traditions. Novruz promotes the values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families, as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and various communities. [Source: UNESCO]
According to UNESCO Nooruz was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because: 1) The element is a celebration consisting of various customs practised within the family and the entire community, including traditional games, culinary traditions, music, dance, oral expressions and crafts, and forms a fundamental part of the cultural identity of the communities concerned; 2) The inscription of the element on the Representative List would encourage inter- and intracultural dialogue and mutual respect among cultures, while strengthening the transmission of the element to future generations;
Orozo (Ramadan Fasting)
Orozo refers to the extended period of fasting which all the Muslims are expected to observe during the month of Ramadan on the Muslim calender. As stated in the Koran, it is obligatory for every Muslim of age 12 years and above to fast during Ramadan. During this month the Kyrgyz eat nothing from sunrise until sunset. This month is widely celebrated as it is considered Almighty Allah's gift to human beings to become steadfast, strong and earn God's blessings and mercy. Everybody strives to become a better and more helpful human being by contributing to the goodwill of the community. The fast is broken everyday at the sunset, usually in congregation, with a special feast consisting of several traditional meals and drinks. A special prayer called 'Taraweeh' is said at night. [Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]
During Ramadan, people refrain from gossiping, backbiting and swearing and try at their utmost to take actions which benefits society so that they become eligible to gain Allah's appreciation and rewards. A special charity called “Bittir” is given to the destitute in the society. The Kyrgyz believe that Orozo teaches them to control desire and engage in right conduct to maintain throughout the year.
Kyrgyz believe that Orozo teaches people to be patient and appreciate food. They believe that during Orozo people shouldn't offend anyone and should be friendly to everyone. They should always wash themselves before reciting the namaz (rite of the Koran) personally give Orozo to Allah and ask Allah to receive their fast. Both those who keep the fast and those who do not must prepare dinner for those who keep Orozo. Besides the religious aspects of fasting, there are health related reasons and advantages. By keeping Orozo, the people can get rid of harmful substances in their bodies. All people must fast except women who are pregnant or who have a baby, sick people, religious travelers and fighters. The special charity "bitir" is given to sick or poor person, or to a mosque. The "bitir" sum each member of a family is expected to pay is the equivalent on one kilogram of wheat.
See Ramadan Under Muslims.
Orozo Ait (Eid, Marking the End of Ramadan)
Orozo Ait is arguably the most popular Muslim festival. Also called “Eid”, this festival is celebrated as the ending of Orozo (Ramadan). Orozo Ait begins with a huge congregational prayer in which all men are expected to gather at a certain Eid-Gah (place of prayer) at a particular time. At this time, hundreds, even thousands, gather together in a particular place to pray. Women are supposed to pray at home. Everyone wears newly-made — usually bright colored and fancy — clothes and go out to meet relatives, neighbors and friends. Children and even elders sing tunes — "Jaramazan" — like Christmas carol singers and greet each other with a warm welcomes. People, upon opening their doors to listen to the tunes should give cooked sweets, bread, cookies, candies or cash to the singers. [Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]
Orozo Ait, also known as the Feast of the end of Ramadan and Id al-Fitr, is the Islamic holiday honoring the close of the fasting month of Ramadan. The celebration lasts three days. Muslims try to have fun and cook and enjoy traditional foods which are exchanged with neighbors. "Allah akbar" (Allah the greatest) is how all the prayers begin in the mosques.
During the three days of Orozo Ait, believers must visit the places where dead members of their family or close family friends rest. Everybody must act peacefully towards their friends, forgive enemies. They say that one person must visit seven houses during three days of the holiday, and extend invitations all neighbors and relatives to be their guests.
See Muslim Holidays
Kurman Ait (Day of the Sacrifice)
Kurman Ait, or Feast of Sacrifice, is the the Islamic feast marking the end of the Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). Held 70 days after Orozo Ait and the end of Ramadan, it is celebrated on the tenth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar (Dhu al-Hijjah) to commemorate the sacrifice of the prophet Abraham. The holiday symbolizes mercy, the power of God and the idea that faith is the best sacrifice. [Source: advantour]
Kurman Ait is marked every year with the sacrifice of thousands of animals in the Mina valley near Mecca. Muslims throughout the world also kill animals —mostle sheep, cattle or goats —to mark the event. Other observances include the saying of a special prayer, visiting resting places of the dead, visiting of friends and giving gifts. [Source: fantasticasia.net]
Kurman Ait is widely celebrated in the month of Zilhajj of the Muslim calender. Some say it also marks the end of Mohammed’s journey to Mecca. It honors Abraham (the Prophet Ibrahim) and his son Ismail. According to Koran, Prophet Ibrahim was asked to scrifice his son as a test from Allah. He closed his eyes and readily ran a knife on what he thought was Ismail's throat. When he opened them, he found a sheep in the place of his son, which had been placed there by by Allah. The meat of the sacrifice is distributed amongst poor and neighbors. New clothes are worn to celebrate the day. People also make special foods for guests and get-togethers are held. Sermons and prayers and conducted in the morning. this day.
Kyrgyzstan Felt Festival
Felt is a dense material made of sheep’s wool, which for centuries has played a major role in the everyday life of the Kyrgyz people of other nomadic people of Central Asia. The secrets of felt making and decorated it with ornaments has been handed down from generation to generation. Felt is primarily used as a material for covering yurts from the outside. From felt, one can make carpets, bags, even toys.
The art of felt product making is practiced throughout Kyrgyzstan, and the felt produced in each region has its own characteristics and technical and artistic techniques and traditions. Today, traditional crafts of the Kyrgyz people such as felt making is supported by tourist activities, such as the Felt Festival.
The festival, called “Kiyiz Duyno” in Kyrgyz, includes the raising of many yurts, master classes in felt making, creating patterns on the felt, exhibition and sales of felt articles and so on. In addition, there are shows of customs and rituals of the Kyrgyz people, games and folk concerts.
Kyrgyz Hunting Bird Festival
The Hunting Bird Festival is one of the most vibrant and exciting event in Kyrgyzstan. Here you can see a variety of hunting birds — from eagles and erne to vultures and falcons. Predatory, birds with sharp claws and graceful beaks are born hunters, who, in a mysterious way have been tamed by people since ancient times.
The first hunting birds is said by some to have come from India. Later this style of hunting was spread worldwide. The Kyrgyz still value hunting birds. In the past a single bird could feed a whole village. However, hunting with birds is no longer performed out of necessity: it is a hobby and form of entertainment carried out for the pleasure of the bird owners and for tourists.
The falconry festival in Kyrgyzstan features shows of eagle and falcon hunting — mainly going after hares and foxes — and traditional Kyrgyz birds’ game such as Arkan, Tartmay, Zholuk and Tastamay, as well as various cultural events, folk performances, contests and so on.
National Festival of the Horse Games
Horses along with hunting dogs have always played a huge role in the daily life of the Kyrgyz people. They were essential not only in hunting, but also as true helpers in everyday family life. Even today, many Kyrgyz in rural areas follow a semi-nomadic way of life. Almost everyone can ride a horse, and a variety of horse games that have been passed on from generation to generation, provide an excellent opportunity to show their riding skills, agility and prompt reaction.
Today you may see games such as: 1) At Chabysh — long distance horse up to 100 kilometers in which often young boys of age 10 to 15 race their horses in the countryside, sometimes with the saddles removed to increase the speed. 2) Ulak Tartysh (buz kashi) is a wild game in which two teams of riders ‘compete’ for a goat carcass. Many first-time spectators are amazed by the way the riders droop down to snag the 30-kilogram carcass while riding. Points are scored when a team drops the carcass down a slope into an improvised ring.
3) Kurosh is wrestling on horses. Riders trt to knock their opponents off their horses by pushing and grabbing. 4) Oodarysh is another type of horse-mounted wrestling in which riders try get the each other off the horse without using their hands. Winners often win by skillfully riding their horse to push over the other rider, maybe even his horse. 5) Kyz Kumay is a beautiful game, that is still hard to call a game. A male rider tries to catch a girl-rider and if he does he is be awarded with a kiss. 6) Tiyin Enmey is a game where riders try to pick up coins from the ground while riding.
The dates of the horse festival sometimes fall outside the normal “tourist season” as the events are not intended for tourists but rather are for local people. The majority of the participants are people working in the mountains, who take cattle to one of the mountain jailoos (pasture) for the summertime. When the herd is down to the lower meadows, preparation for horse games starts.
World Nomad Games
The Kyrgyz were always nomads that moved from one pasture to another, in summers going up high to the mountains and would spend winters in valleys. This is reflected in the everyday life, traditions and entertainment of the people. Today anyone can visit different ethnic festivals but to see the whole cultural richness you should visit the World Nomads Games that were held the first time in 2014.
This event does not only gather local craftsmen, riders and artists from Kyrgyzstan, but also includes other nomad people from Asia. Delegations from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, China, Russia, Turkey and other countries have participated at this festival. Contests between countries are held in different games that existed in their cultures for centuries: races, horse games, falconry, wrestling, etc. According to organizers’ idea ‘World Nomads Games’ will soon become a parallel Olympic Games and grow into the ‘World Ethnic Games’.
The first World Nomad Games was held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan in September 2014. Kyrgyz and Turkish riders played the traditional Central Asian sport Buzkashi Mounted players competed for points by throwing a stuffed sheepskin into a well. Teams from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Mongolia and Tajikistan participated. [Source: AFP, September 9, 2014]
Kyrgyzstan’s Mount Santa: Better Than the North Pole?
Associated Press reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: “Just in time for Christmas, authorities say they plan to name a snowy peak "Mount Santa Claus." Three climbers set off to scale the designated peak and bury a capsule containing the flag of Kyrgyzstan at the summit on Christmas Eve. [Source: Associated Press, December 20, 2007]
“Why is a predominantly Muslim and former Soviet land honoring the jolly old elf? "We want to develop tourism, and Santa Claus is an ideal brand to help us do this," said Nurhon Tadzhibayeva, an official with Kyrgyz tourist authorities. Plans are afoot to hold an international Santa Claus congress in Kyrgyzstan in the summer, Tadzhibayeva said. The country also intends to hold annual games in which Santas from all over the world will test their chimney-climbing, sled-racing and tree-decorating skills. Other Kyrgyzstan peaks bear the names of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Foreign Policy magazine reported, “ASwedish consulting firm had calculated that Santa Claus should begin his worldwide toy-delivery journey in the mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan—at latitude (N) 40.40̊, longitude (E) 74.24̊, to be exact—to maximize efficiency of distribution and minimize strain on his reindeer. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have become quite excited by the prospect that Father Christmas might be relocating from the North Pole (now claimed by the Russians anyway) to their Central Asia country. They’re apparently so excited that they’ve decided to name one of their many unnamed peaks “Mount Santa Claus.” [Source: P.J. Aroon, Foreign Policy, December 21, 2007]
Burial Customs in Kyrgyzstan
According to everyculture.com: Burials are done in Islamic fashion, but funerals are not. Contrary to Islamic law, the body will remain on display for two or three days so that all close family members have time to arrive and say good-bye. When someone dies, a boz-ui must be erected. This is the traditional home of the nomadic Kyrgyz, a round, domed tent made of wool felt on a collapsible wooden frame. A man is laid out inside on the left, while a woman is laid on the right. Only women are allowed inside the boz-ui to lament, while men mourn through the tent wall, from the outside. The wife and daughters of the deceased sit by the body to sing mourning songs and greet each person who comes to view the body. A wife wears black, while daughters wear deep blue. As each visitor pays respects, the mullah recites from the Qur'an. [Source: everyculture.com]
The burial usually takes place at noon. The body is washed and wrapped in a shroud, then cloth, and then sometimes a felt rug. The body is displayed outside the boz-ui and a final prayer, the janaza, is said. Only men go to the cemetery for[fj] the burial, but the women visit the grave early the next day. Every Thursday for the next forty days the family must kill a sheep in remembrance. At this time, those who could not attend the funeral may come to pay their respects. At the end of the forty-day period there is a large memorial feast called kirku, where a horse or a cow is killed. On the first anniversary another memorial feast is given, called ash or jildik, which takes place over two days. The first day is for grieving, and the second is for games and horse races.
The Kyrgyz believe that the spirits of the dead can help their descendants. Ancestors are "offered" food in prayers, and people pour water on graves when they visit so the dead will not be thirsty. It is forbidden to step on a grave, and cemeteries are placed on hilltops because high places are sacred.
Funerals in Kyrgyzstan
The Kyrgyz practice ground burials. According to fantasticasia.net: Sookko kiruu (Washing the body): When a man dies, before he is buried, according to the sharia (Muslim law), his body must be washed. At first the three closest persons in his family must wash the body. This is called "mayram suuga aluu" — the last purifying washing. Then seven representatives from that person's relatives wash the body. This rite is called "suuga aluu" — washing the body. The seven people make gloves of white cloth, tie a kerchief round their mouths and weari them when they wash the body. While they wash it, a Muslim priest cuts pieces of clothes - "kepin" and sews them together with white needles by hands. This white cloth must be prepared by the person himself or by his/her children. [Source: fantasticasia.net]
After washing, the body is put on the left side of the yurt if it is the man's body, on the right side if it is a woman's body. Children, relatives and friends of the deceased guard the body during the night and talk about that person's personal values and activities of his lifetime. In the daytime, women sing a "koshok" — grieving song — praising the deceased person's good features. Men stand outside the yurt in the front of the body and engage in ritual weeping "okuruk" when they see coming people. On the third day, after washing and wrapping the body in the white cloth, only men carry the body to the grave and bury it. The people who have washed the body and other relatives are given the clothes of the deceased person. These people must read the Koran that is specially applicable for the person who died and only then wear his clothes.
Kara ash (Black dinner): After a person is buried, his female relatives, prepare a table, make tea and other dishes and present them to men who have came back after the funeral and the people that mourn with them. Also after the funeral, horseflesh for a horse slaughtered specially for this occasion is given to the people. This food is called "Kara ash". People eat "Kara ash" while passages of the Koran pertaining to the death of the deceased person are read.
After the funeral: Kyrgyz people mark forty days after person's death by getting together with frinds and relative and feasting on a sheep. Usually the widow/widower wears mourning during the 40 day period. Ash (A year after death) is marked with a monument set up by children and relatives of the deceased to remember him or her. Around the same time relatives of the deceased give a dinner to people desiring to calm the dead person's soul. Women sing koshok again to remember and hinor the deceased. Before each dinner the Koran dedicated to that person is read aloud again. This rite is called "Ash".
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated April 2016