Georgian people love their holidays, evidenced by the fact that the Georgian calendar is packed with celebratory events. More than just official public holidays, Georgians know how to greet each occasion with joyful festivities and scrumptious feasts. Learn more about religious and secular Georgian holidays and consider planning your Georgia vacation around one or more of these special events.
January 7: Christmas
Christmas in Georgia is a time of celebration, family and friends. Streets are decorated with sparkling lights and carols are sung throughout the country. On Christmas Eve, every church holds a special liturgical service and in Tbilisi, this liturgy is held in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and led by the Catholicos Patriarch.
The service is followed by a jovial parade known as Alilo. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the holiday festivities, it’s a spectacular procession that attracts thousands of people each year. Congregants and priests alike parade down the streets, singing songs and carrying icons, crosses and flags representing each region of the country. Anyone is welcome to join in the march, and many bring gifts and donations which are later distributed to orphanages and asylums.
On Christmas Eve night, candles are lit in every Georgian home and placed intentionally near the window, that the light may be visible to passersby. This tradition, founded by the Georgian patriarch Ilia II, symbolizes the birth of Christ into each family where the candle has been lit.
In addition to the traditional Christmas tree, Georgians have their own tree called a chichilaki, a homemade wooden tree made with shaved hazelnut or walnut branches and decorated with dried fruits and ornaments. The chichilaki adorns nearly every home in the country and is the ultimate symbol of a Georgian Christmas.
March 3: Mother's Day
Georgian women have two significant holidays dedicated to them in March - Mother's Day and International Women's Day. The role of the mother is sacred for Georgians, and Tbilisi even has a huge statue symbolizing the mother of Georgia. While Mother’s Day has only been celebrated in the country since 1991, it has quickly grown in popularity.
On this day mothers, grandmothers and wives are congratulated with flowers, which are sold on nearly every street corner. In Tbilisi many interesting festivities, concerts, charity events and folk festivals are held in honor of this occasion.
March 8: International Women's Day
Every woman in Georgia looks forward to the 8th of March! Georgian men have a reputation for being gallant, but on this day they outdo themselves by showering ladies with flowers, gifts, compliments and pampering. Feasts are prepared and toasts proclaimed to the glory of feminine beauty and charm. As the night wears on, speeches transform into songs on this international holiday made unforgettable by Georgian chivalry.
Easter (March – April)
Easter in Georgia is greatly anticipated, as it symbolizes new life and hope for every Christian believer.
Preparations begin a week in advance, when wheat grass is grown in a plate as a symbol of the life that Christ gave through His resurrection. On the Friday before Easter (known as Red Friday because of Christ’s crucifixion on this day) hardboiled eggs are dyed red.
On Saturday, Georgians go to church in the evening and wait for the Holy Fire, brought specially from Israel, in a service that lasts until Sunday morning. Special Easter cakes called paska are baked with raisins and eaten on Sunday as a dessert or snack. On Monday people visit the graveyards of their loved ones, greeting them cheerfully as they would a living relative, in honor of the resurrection. The red eggs are left beside the graves, where children or people in need may find and eat them.
April 9: Day of National Unity
Day of National Unity, one of the most somber public holidays in Georgia, commemorates the first spark of Georgian independence. On this tragic day in 1989, Soviet troops were marched into Georgia to suppress demonstrations demanding the restoration of Georgia’s independence. Clashes ensued in which 30 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Each year on this day, the country remembers those who fell in the struggle for freedom of their native land. Churches conduct civil services for the dead and in Tbilisi, flowers and candles are laid at the victims’ memorial. Triumphantly, exactly two years later on April 9, 1991, Georgia’s independence was declared.
April 15: Love Day
It should come as no surprise that the amorous Georgians have not one, but two holidays for love, the first being February 14th and the second on April 15th. Georgians thought up their own alternative to St. Valentine's Day a few years ago, and now April 15 is a favorite holiday for those in love. On this day, much as on February 14th, couples give each other flowers and gifts, arrange surprises and plan romantic evenings. In Tbilisi romantic shows, concerts and competitions are held.
May 9: Victory Day
Every year on May 9, Georgia celebrates the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany. This holiday is dedicated to the heroes of World War II and in Tbilisi, the celebration takes place in Vake Park near the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. The day is commemorated with brass bands playing, stage couples dancing and flowers strewn all around the park, much as if nothing had changed since the spring of 1945. Beginning at dawn, a stream of people lay flowers at the foot of the memorial and congratulate the veterans throughout the day. The celebrations are concluded with concerts and a gala dinner in their honor.
May 12: Saint Andrew the First Called Day
Saint Andrew, the first disciple called by Jesus, is also credited with being the first person to spread the gospel in the Caucasus region and thus is viewed by many as the father of the Georgian Orthodox Church. His memory and significance to the country is perpetuated on this day, a Georgian public holiday when schools and most businesses are closed and special services are held in the church.
May 14: Tamaroba
Georgia was ruled by the wise Queen Tamar until the fall of her empire in the 13th century. Known as the Golden Age of Georgia, it was a time of enlightenment, peace and spirituality. Queen Tamar oversaw the building of hundreds of temples, monasteries and libraries and served as a patron of poets and scholars while championing the cause of the ordinary people.
Much like their ancestors from centuries past, Georgian people today continue to revere Queen Tamar. The Orthodox Church of Georgia has elevated her to sainthood, and Tamaroba is regarded as a significant national holiday. Most festivities take place in Tbilisi and Akhaltsikhe, where a monument in memory of Queen Tamar has been erected.
May 26: Independence Day
Georgia gained independence on March 31, 1991, yet Independence Day is celebrated on May 26, the day when Georgia briefly gained independence in 1918. It was absorbed into the Soviet Union after only three years, where it remained as a state for the next seven decades before its independence was finally reaffirmed in 1991.
Independence Day in Georgia is celebrated with pomp and circumstance. A solemn military parade is held, during which thousands of army personnel and more than 100 pieces of military equipment are marched through Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare while dozens of aircraft trace intricate patterns in the sky.
Children's activities, sports matches and competitions are held in parks and stadiums, and the ceremony is concluded with a grand concert in the historic Rike neighborhood.
June 1: St. Nin’s Day (Ninooba)
Ninooba is a significant Georgian holiday commemorating the June 1 arrival to Georgia of St. Nino, who later converted the Georgians to the Christian faith. Saint Nino was born in the Roman province of Cappadocia at the start of the 4th century, and after adopting Christianity at an early age, she moved with her parents to Jerusalem. There she learned the legend about the tunic of the Lord and began to pray for its discovery.
According to legend the Virgin Mary, heeding the prayers of the girl, showed her the path to Iberia, that she might discover the tunic and carry the teachings of Christ to the land. Before her departure, the Virgin Mary gave St. Nino a grapevine cross, with which she baptized Georgia.
The relics of St. Nino are kept in the Bodbe (Kakheti) Monastery. On Ninooba, the day of her advent to Georgia, crowds of religious pilgrims gather and retrace her footsteps from Paravani to Mtskheta. In Tbilisi a service is held at Zion Cathedral, where the grapevine cross stands as the most significant shrine to Saint Nino today.
August 28: St. Mary’s Day (Mariamoba)
St. Mary was the mother of Jesus who, according to the Orthodox Church, was bodily taken up into heaven after her death. This ascension is celebrated all throughout Georgia - religious ceremonies are held, special prayers are recited and churchgoers light candles in honor of St. Mary.
Many individuals will hold a 14-day fasts prior to the holiday, refraining from meat and dairy products. When St. Mary’s Day arrives, lambs are carried around the church three times before being slaughtered and eaten in community banquets, marking the end of the collective fast. This holiday offers a great opportunity to visit friends and loved ones, with feasting, song and dance enjoyed by all. Religious devotees travel to Holy Trinity Church in Gergeti, which sees thousands of visitors on Mariamoba.
Rtveli Harvest Holiday (September / October)
Rtveli is one of the most festive holidays in Georgia, and any visitor fortunate enough to experience this celebration will likely find it a highlight of their trip. On Rtveli, the whole family gathers to harvest grapes - grown children return from afar and multiple generations gather in a display of the sanctity of the Georgian family.
Rtveli is noise, laughter, songs, dances and jokes. After the men return from the vineyards with huge basketfuls of grapes, the grapes are pressed in large vats in what has evolved into nothing short of a religious rite. During this time women cook a traditional pudding called tatara over an open fire, a treat consisting of grape juice boiled with flour. From this sweet mass the famous churchkhela is made by dipping walnuts in the grape taffy, a delicious treat that’s a favorite among Georgian children.
The Rtveli feast is truly amazing. Every type of Georgian delicacy may be found: aromatic kebabs, rich khinkali (Georgian dumplings), spicy lobio satsivi (flavored beans) and khachapuri (cheese pies), plus an abundance of wine, fruits and vegetables. The head of the family will often raise the first toast to Georgia’s prosperity, followed by speeches and songs that continue well into the evening.
The work continues in full swing for about 3 days, with the whole family and numerous guests gathering each day around the table.
October 14: Svetitskhovloba
October 14 is one of the most sacred Georgian holidays, commemorating Georgia’s acquisition of a revered religious relic, the tunic of the Lord. This tunic led to the building of Georgia’s most significant church, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia.
Georgians are well versed in the legend of two first-century Jewish priests who brought the tunic in which Jesus was executed to Georgia. Sidonia, the sister of one of the priests, took the tunic in her arms and died promptly from heartbreak. It was decided that she should be buried with the tunic, and after a while a cedar tree began to grow out of her grave.
When Georgia adopted Christianity in the 4th century, King Mirian decided to chop down the tree and build a church in its place. He used the wood to carve seven pillars for the church. Upon completion, myrrh began to stream forth from one of the pillars, providing healing from all types of ailments. St. Nino, credited with bringing Christianity to Georgia, was the only one who could beg the blessing of the Lord to move the church. After her prayers an invisible force dropped the pillar precisely where the tunic was buried. A small wooden church was built around it and was called Svetitskhoveli, meaning “Life-Giving Pillar”.
In the 11th century the wooden church was replaced by a majestic cross-domed cathedral in which the Svetitskhovloba celebration now takes place. Early in the morning a solemn service is held, led by the Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia the Second. Golden-robed priests fill the cathedral and the sacred rites, followed by a mass baptism, attract the devout from all around the world.
On Svetitskhovloba, believers also visit the holy sites of Samtavro and Jvari Monasteries in Mtskheta.
November 23: St. George's Day (Giorgoba)
St. George the Victorious is the most beloved, revered saint in Georgia. While serving as a commander under the Roman emperor Diocletian, George tried to defend the persecuted Christians. For this he was subjected to terrible torture, being stretched upon a rotating wheel under a set of knives which would dig into his body.
The Christian Church at large canonized St. George as a great martyr and saint. In Georgia, however, he was elevated to the status of the country’s patron and protector, and the day of his death became an important religious holiday.
On St. George’s Day, bells ring in all the churches and believers pray to St. George for welfare, peace and health. In the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, a special liturgy is held. The Georgians spend this holiday with friends and relatives, celebrating and singing traditional songs.
December 31: New Year
Georgian holidays are a chain of celebrations that begin and end with the New Year, around which numerous traditions have developed over the years. For example, one of the main New Year's symbols in Asia is the Christmas (New Year) tree. In Georgia, each family decorates both a Christmas tree and a chichilaki, made from shaved walnut or hazelnut branches. The tree is burned after the New Year and Orthodox Christmas in the hope that troubles will also vanish with the smoke.
The Georgian New Year's table is beautifully laid out with symbolic and savory dishes: satsivi (roasted young pork symbolizing wellbeing) and gozinaki (honey-glazed nuts, that life may be as sweet as honey). In general, the more sweets that are on the New Year’s table, the sweeter the year will be. The main item on a Georgian New Year table, however, is the local wine that’s drunk to the clink of glasses and eloquent toasts.
At the stroke of midnight, the sky flashes with multicolored fireworks, and songs and dances continue well into the morning.
One Georgian New Year tradition still popular in the villages is mekvle. Mekvle is the belief that the first person to cross the threshold of each home at New Year will bring either happiness or misfortune. Villagers supposedly know who the people with "happy feet" are and will invite them in advance to step into their home after midnight. These fortune-bringing individuals present the hosts with a basket filled with wine, sweets and boiled pork, wishing them happiness for the coming year.