The Secret of Christmas and New Year

Everyone has their own Christmas and New Year memories, usually featuring a majestic tree, Santa Claus, Chichilaki (Georgian traditional wooden New Year tree) Mekvle (the fi rst through the door congratulates occupants on the New Year fi rst) and wishes come true. These emotions wear the scent of gourmet and traditional dishes – Gozinaki, Satsivi, Khachapuri, Kada and Nazuki (Georgian pastries) Chvishtari and various sweets… This is the aroma that follows and inspires you all life long and for every nation Christmas and New Year is associated with such majestic tastes.

The cuisine of each country expresses the traditions, culture and character of a nation as well as its regional characteristics. Regarding Georgian gastronomic culture, it brings together a whole cycle of rituals and customs. 

Julius Caesar established the first day of January as the beginning of the New Year and the fi rst of January is celebrated as such almost everywhere. It is one of the favorite holidays of Georgians and preparation sometimes starts a month beforehand in many families. And though contemporary youth don’t spend quite so long preparing as their older family members, one main principle is almost always preserved – to meet the New Year with family and enjoy the gastronomic delights of Satsivi and Gozinaki, wonderful Georgian wine and other mouthwatering morsels.

The main characteristic of Georgian cuisine lies in its regional originalities, but they are connected with the New Year blessings, cheese and bread, Khachapuri, wine and traditional New Year must-tastes Satsivi and Gozinaki.

Satsivi is a Georgian ritual dish with its main hero turkey, which should be at least a one-year old and fatty in order to offer a nourishing broth. This broth is mixed with minced walnuts and different spices: dry coriander, fenugreek, saffron and salt…Later, pomegranate juice or white wine vinegar is added into this whole bouquet of flavors and as the fi nal step, roasted turkey pieces are put inside. There were long-lasting disputes underway about Sastivi: which is tastier?! The one made in Guria which should be boiled at the end? Or Megrelian Satsivi which does not need boiling at all? This ‘acute’ dispute was fi nally decided by the famous writer and feminist Barbare Jorjadze in her book “The Whole Cuisine” – a real gastronomic masterpiece of the 19th century, where she claims that Guria is home to the traditional Satsivi.

Getting back to Christmas and New Year, everyone keeps gastronomic emotions connected with these holidays – your mom and grandma fussing in a kitchen and dad putting logs in the fi replace to burn all night long and that majestic smell permeating the house…

Georgia is an Orthodox Christian country, and so it celebrates Christmas on January 7. It is a very special day for many Georgian families. Pork and Christmas pie are made ready… Boiled head and legs of pig are the essential ingredients of the Kakhetian feast; piglet and Kupati (traditional Georgian sausages with spices) beautify the Christmas table in Samegrelo; Khinkali is shaped in Pshav-Khevsureti; and Kada, Georgian pastry, is baked in Javakheti; a bull is slaughtered in Svaneti; while Achma and Baklava are served in Adjara. In a word, all Georgian regions have their individual culinary masterpieces and an essential component of the Christmas ritual.

My grandmother used to prepare one of the Megrelian ‘trademarks,’ Chvishtari, for Christmas. Chvishtari is made of corn flour and mixed with young cheese or wiped Sulguni (Georgian cheese), it also needs egg and salt and is kneaded with Matsoni (Georgian yoghurt) or milk. The main component of the Christmas Chvishtari is melted pig fat blended with lemon. This mixture was preserved separately and my grandma called it ‘tsnari’. It was used for Christmas Chvishtari and also as a curative remedy when you caught a cold or had bronchial problems. The special Christmas Chvishtari is traditionally served with buffalo yoghurt in old Samegrelo. We should not forget about Elarji (cornmeal with Silguni cheese), too, which is another must-have Christmas dish in Samegrelo even today.

As I mentioned above, everyone celebrates this wonderful day in their own way, but the main purpose is the same everywhere – to create a festive and abundant atmosphere. This important events holiday again and again reminds us about the need for love and humanity in such a hectic epoch and also gives us the chance to respect our traditions and non-material heritage, one of the most important elements of national identity.

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