With the holiday season behind us, we have officially spent our second Christmas/New Years in another country; the first of course was in Slovenia in 2016. Although it is exciting and interesting to spend time in another culture for the most important times of year you also can't help but feel a bit lonely being far away from friends and family and all that you are familiar with. It's hard to jump onto facebook and see the pictures everyone is posting of the times spent together Just like everything in life, there are sacrifices to be made for the choices that you make and as hard as it is, I think we're both still happy with our choice.
Christmas lights in Tbilisi, Liberty Square
December was a bit of a whirlwind with many events happening in the city and our attempts to keep ourselves busy. We both felt great and the weather was mostly co-operating with what we were hoping for in a winter abroad. We had only seen snow once at this point (although that has changed now) and minus temperatures were a thing for some overnights only. All in all...a win in our books.
In case you don't know, Georgia is orthodox Christian which means that they do not celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. Christmas is 7th of January with the Orthodox New Years on 14th of January. Oddly enough though, December 31st is the day where people celebrate New Years and is an absolutely massive holiday; more on that later. So, our 25th of December was definitely a bit strange; shops were open, people were out and about and the Christmas market had only opened on the 22nd of December so it didn't feel very Christmas-y. We did manage to celebrate on that day though with a party that we had been invited to by an Iranian student studying in Georgia that we had met. It was a great night filled with a lot of laughter and, as with every party with Iranians we've since learned, way too much dancing. Our Mennonite fathers would have been very disappointed in us.
Winter snow in Tbilisi. I'm sure it will all be gone within a week.
New years in Tbilisi is THE event of the year and we were told that the fireworks are unrivaled anywhere else in the world. It's a bold claim as we've been in Beijing for Chinese New Years and that kept us awake for almost the entire night so we was excited to see Tbilisi could do. As we got ready to head out for New years we were dreading the crowds of people. However, upon leaving our apartment we were greeted with.....quiet....aside from the fireworks that would go off all day of course. Barely any people on the streets..."well, maybe it will be busier in the metro". Nope....dead quiet there too. What is going on? Well, it turns out that New Years is a family holiday and plays the part of Christmas as well. Families will have their big holiday meal on New Years, spend their entire day together and then after midnight the younger ones will go out to party. Even Christmas presents are opened on New Years instead of Christmas. Georgia's communist history meant that religious holidays were not allowed, so they celebrated on the secular ones instead and this has now become the norm. Although there are still celebrations on orthodox Christmas and New Years, they aren't nearly as popular as December 31st.
Dolma. Grape leaves wrapped around a mixture of meat and rice. Usually topped with a yogurt sauce
We started the night with a visit to restaurant Kneina where we were treated to a delicious feast of Georgian specialties of which I only remember a few dishes and was too busy devouring everything in site to bother with photos. I will not hesitate to return as it was extremely delicious and the owners were great hosts. In fact, one owner was so disturbed by my lack of an alcoholic drink order that he insisted I have a drink of his home-brewed chacha, which is the Georgian home brewed alcohol. I was informed that not ordering an alcoholic drink, especially on an important holiday, is extremely strange. I was happy to discover though, that he hadn't been lying, and his chacha was ACTUALLY good and didn't just taste like fire, like every other time I had drank it. So, hats off to Kneina on being able to trick me into one more attempt at liking the stuff. I guess I'm a slow learner.
The moment of disaster!
We spent the rest of the evening in our friend's bar "The Tipsy Bee" chatting with friends and playing games. Shortly before midnight we made the trek 5 minutes up to Betlemi rise, which is a little park on the hill below the Mother of Georgia statue. It overlooks the city and gives a great viewpoint for the fireworks. They had already started as Georgians really really love their fireworks but the closer it got to midnight, the more it appeared as if the entire city was setting off fireworks all at once. It definitely was in contention with Beijing for just as impressive and is one of my favorite memories so far of our time here. The sound was deafening and the sight was something to behold.
January 2nd is known as Bedoba, another holiday in the Georgian calendar. Bedoba literally translates to 'luck' and has become somewhat of a superstitious way for Georgians to gamble on what their next year will look like. On Bedoba, they will attempt to spread positive cheer or do the things that they want to do more of in the coming year. If you want to relax, you will relax on Bedoba, if you want to party more you will go out and party, if you want to spread positivity....you get the idea. It's a day to shape your entire next year. We definitely took a more relaxed view of Bedoba and spent the day inside and wandering our neighborhood; hopefully a view into what our next year looks like.
Our crispy Chebureki. A pastry filled with meat and spices. DELICIOUS!
Orthodox Christmas and New Years
We got to do all of the celebrations over again in just a week so by the time they rolled around we were rested and ready. In case you don't know, the reason that Orthodox Christmas and New Years are on different dates is because they still celebrate these days according to the Julian calendar. Non-orthodox Christian countries currently use the Gregorian calendar which caused the shift to celebrations on December 25th and December 31st.
Even though the celebrations are much quieter on these two days, there are still some celebrations happening throughout the country. January 7th in Tbilisi is the alilo parade which has Georgians walking through the city to the Sameba Cathedral chanting and singing while dressed in robes and carrying Georgian flags. They collect donations along the way to the cathedral to later distribute to people in need.
Orthodox New Years we honestly had even forgotten about. January 14th came and we were safely at home lounging in our living room when the normal fireworks started to get a little louder then 'normal'. As it got closer to midnight it really started to kick off with fireworks exploding literally outside our window. After midnight it started to die off much quicker and within a half-hour it was back to the normal amount of fireworks for a Tbilisi evening.
At this point we had scheduled our trip to Armenia and have just returned. I will be writing our Armenia update shortly and have way too many photos of our time there.
Till the next time!
Here's our breakdown for the month of December. Our expenditures went up a bit but mostly related to Raeleen's unexpected hospital stay.
Housing - 1580.40gel
Food - 1570.55gel
Personal (Medical, hair, etc) - 1658.60gel
Transportation - 96.20gel
Entertainment - 50gel
Total - 4955.75gel - $2476.39 Canadian dollar.
Now, as you can see it was a pretty slow month with Raeleen's hospital stay and her getting better. We made up for it a lot by going out for food and drinks with friends which is why our food expenditures are so high. Raeleen's costs in the hospital were about $780CAD or 1500gel, so if you remove that one time charge we would have done the whole month for about $1750CAD.