Public Holidays in Georgia
|Holiday||2020||2021||History and Significance|
|New Year||Jan 1-2,
|New Year is observed in Georgia according to the Gregorian Calendar. It’s a colorful holiday celebrated with family and friends over traditional, lavish feasts called supra.|
|Orthodox Christmas||Jan 7, Tue||Jan 7, Thu||A church holiday celebrated according to the Julian calendar, it’s marked with a religious procession known as Alilo.|
|Orthodox Epiphany||Jan 19, Sun||Jan 19, Tue||Another religious holiday celebrated according to the Julian calendar, it commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. The characteristic element of the holiday is the burning of a traditional Christmas tree, or chichilaki, as a symbol of bidding farewell to the previous year’s troubles and sorrows.|
|Mother’s Day||Mar 3, Tue||Mar 3, Wed||A relatively modern holiday established in 1991that is dedicated to the celebration of motherhood and its role in society.|
|International Women’s Day||Mar 8, Sun||Mar 8, Mon||This globally recognized holiday is also celebrated in Georgia. Custom requires men and boys to present the women in their lives with flowers and small gifts.|
|National Unity Day||Apr 9, Thu||Apr 9, Fri||This holiday commemorates the events of April 9, 1989, during which the Soviet Army attacked a peaceful anti-Soviet demonstration, killing 21 and injuring thousands.|
|Orthodox Easter||Apr 17-20,
|Apr 30 – May 3,
|Easter in Georgia is celebrated according to the Julian calendar and thus its date varies each year. The holiday lasts from Good Friday through Easter Monday and reaches its culmination on Easter Sunday, celebrated as the day of the resurrection of Christ.|
|Victory Day||May 9, Sat||May 9, Sun||Victory Day commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender after midnight on May 8, 1945.|
|Saint Andrew the First-Called Day||May 12, Tue||May 12, Wed||A holiday celebrating the arrival of Saint Andrew, the first Apostle called by Christ and the brother of Saint Peter, to Georgia. Georgian tradition sees Saint Andrew as the first preacher of the Christian gospel in the country and the founder of the Georgian Orthodox Church. In a broader context, the Patriarch of Constantinople is seen as the successor of Saint Andrew.|
|Independence Day||May 26, Tue||May 26, Wed||This holiday commemorates the birth of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, established in 1918 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The day is usually celebrated nationwide with military parades, fireworks and cultural events.|
|Saint Mary’s Day||Aug 28, Fri||Aug 28, Sat||Mariamoba, as it’s known in Georgia, celebrates the assumption of Saint Mary. It’s one of the most important religious holidays in Georgia, with thousands of parishioners visiting churches to pray and light candles.|
|Day of Svetitskhoveli (also known as Svetitskhovloba or Mtskhetoba)||Oct 14, Wed||Oct 14, Thu||A holiday dedicated to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, a masterpiece of medieval architecture recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Svetitskhoveli is believed to be the burial site of Jesus' chiton, the robe in which He was crucified.|
|Saint George’s Day||Nov 23, Mon||Nov 23, Tue||Giorgoba pays homage to the martyrdom of Saint George, the patron of Georgia.|
Holidays in Georgia
Holidays are an essential part of Georgian life and are celebrated with great festivity: Families and friends gather for grand feasts called supra, led by tamada, or toastmasters. Fireworks, parades and lofty speeches accompany secular holidays, while colorful processions and large-scale masses mark religious events. Modern customs mix with ancient rituals preserved by generations of Georgians. Some holidays are celebrated nationwide, while others are regional in scope. Come discover the most significant public holidays in Georgia.
The annual cycle of public holidays in Georgia starts and ends with the New Year, a family festival spent with relatives and close friends. As members of the Orthodox Church, Georgians celebrate Christmas in January and not December, yet they have incorporated some Western traditions into their New Year celebrations. One such example is the Christmas tree, which decorates Georgian homes throughout the season.
New Year is celebrated with a supra feast of traditional dishes such as satsivi (young roasted pork) and gozinaki (honey-glazed nuts). The more sweets on the table, the "sweeter" the coming year will be. Eloquent toasts of best wishes are proclaimed until midnight, when the city lights up with fireworks and rumbles with music and cheers.
Mekvle, the first guest who crosses the threshold of each house after midnight, is a critical component of the Georgian New Year. Since the Mekvle is believed to bring either joy and luck or misfortune to the home, the person was traditionally chosen beforehand, particularly in small villages where locals knew who had a talent for bringing good fortune. When entering the house, Mekvle blesses the home and throws sweets, nuts, and fruit into every corner of the room.
The New Year festivities continue on January 2, known as Bedoba, or the Day of Luck. Since Georgians believe that what happens on Bedoba will determine the course of the whole year, people do their best to stay cheerful and positive, and bad moods are forbidden.
As members of the Orthodox Church, Georgians honor the birth of Jesus according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, every church holds a holiday liturgy. The most prestigious mass takes place in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi and is led by the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Catholicos-Patriarch.
Throughout the country, people gather to participate in Alilo, a joyful, colorful parade marching across Georgian towns. Participants carry icons, Georgian flags and crosses while singing Christmas carols. Priests bless the crowd with holy water, and some people wear Bible-related costumes. Anyone is welcome to join in the march, and many bring gifts and donations for orphanages, nursing homes and prisons. In Tbilisi, the parade walks along Rustaveli Street and ends at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Once the parade is over, people return home or visit their friends and relatives. In the evening, they light candles and put them in their windows as a symbol of the birth of Jesus. Most Georgian homes are decorated with chichilaki, a Georgian version of the Christmas tree made from dried hazelnut or walnut branches that are shaved into long, curly strips to form a small coniferous tree. The Georgians believe chichilaki resembles the famous beard of St. Basil the Great, an orthodox version of Santa Claus. Chichilaki are adorned with fruit and sweets and remain in homes until the Orthodox Epiphany on January 19, when the trees are ceremonially burned to symbolize the passing of the previous year's troubles.
The celebration of mothers and their influence in society is one of the more recent public holidays in Georgia, having been established in 1991 at the initiative of the country's first President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. It promptly gained popularity and has been celebrated ever since. Children and spouses give flowers and small gifts to their mothers and partners, and many concerts, exhibitions and charity events are held for the occasion.
International Women's Day is one of the most popular public holidays in Georgia.
The first Women's Day was organized in 1909 in New York by the Socialist Party of America. After women gained the right to vote in Soviet Russia in 1917, the event was declared a national holiday. In the late 1960s, the holiday was adopted by the Western feminist movement, and the United Nations recognized International Women's Day in 1977.
International Women's Day has remained a vital celebration even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and today is celebrated globally. However, in many post-soviet countries such as Georgia, Poland and Mongolia, the holiday has a particularly celebratory dimension. Men are expected to shower every woman they know with flowers, gifts and compliments. Companies often organize special events for their female employees, and feasts are held throughout the day. The event is marked with concerts, artistic performances, public speeches and elaborate toasts.
Apart from Christmas, Easter is the most important national holiday in Georgia, for it commemorates the essence of the Christian faith - the resurrection of Jesus - and as such, it is celebrated on a large scale nationwide.
A 40-day-long religious fast precludes Holy Week, which culminates in Easter. Throughout the week, the last days of Jesus’ life are remembered, and every functioning church in Georgia holds a special liturgy dedicated to each day of Holy Week. The most important days, known as the Easter Triduum, are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Foot Washing and is marked in churches and monasteries by a foot washing ceremony. In Tbilisi, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia washes the feet of 12 church servants to commemorate Jesus' washing of His disciples' feet. In the evening, all vestments are changed to dark colors to mark the beginning of the Passion.
Good Friday is a holiday in Georgia commemorating the crucifixion and death of Christ. As such, Georgians sometimes call it Red Friday. People boil eggs and paint them red as a symbol of Jesus' blood. On Palm Sunday the eggs are placed on green wheatgrass, which locals start to grow a week in advance. The grass symbolizes new life, resurrection and eternity. They also bake an Easter bread called paska. In churches, a liturgy commemorating the removal of Jesus from the cross takes place. During the reading of the death and burial of Jesus, an icon depicting the body of Christ is taken down from a cross, wrapped in a white cloth and hidden.
On the evening of Holy Saturday, people take the eggs and paska bread to churches for a blessing. The most devoted parishioners gather on Saturday evening to spend the night praying and awaiting Jesus' resurrection on Sunday morning. A unique service of lamentation is conducted in churches as people await the arrival of the Holy Fire, which Orthodox Christians believe miraculously appears annually in the symbolic tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The fire is then flown to Orthodox countries such as Greece, Georgia, Romania, Ukraine and Russia, where it's received by the church and state leaders.
Easter Sunday starts with loud greetings of "Christ has risen!", which is answered with "He is risen indeed!” The paska bread is eaten and eggs cracked for good luck. In a special game, each person selects an egg and starts tapping it on their opponent's egg. The person whose egg cracks first loses, and at the end of the game, whoever has the fewest broken eggs is the winner.
The following Monday is when Georgians visit the graves of their relatives to pay their respects to the dead. (Some also do this on Easter Sunday.) Visitors light candles and roll red Easter eggs across the grave while greeting the deceased with the traditional "Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!" A small feast follows, with toasts given in honor of the dead and a small portion of the wine poured onto the tombs to "clink" the glass with the buried. People eat meat dishes and sweets, and sometimes khachapuri and pastries. As Easter is a symbol of resurrection and eternal life, the people rejoice, believing that they will be reunited with their relatives in the afterlife.
Note: Easter is determined by the lunisolar calendar, and thus its date changes every year, although it always occurs in the springtime.
Out of all the national holidays, the Day of National Unity in Georgia is perhaps the most somber, for it commemorates the deaths of 21 civilians killed on April 9, 1989, during a peaceful anti-Soviet demonstration.
The Tbilisi Massacre (also the April 9 tragedy or Tbilisi Tragedy) occurred when Red Army soldiers began to disperse thousands of protestors gathered in front of the Government House on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi.
Out of 21 people who died as a result of the brutal intervention, 17 were women, with the youngest victim only 16 year old. Hundreds of activists were injured and required medical attention.
Today, Georgia’s National Day is commemorated by people laying flowers and lighting candles at special sites as they recall these tragic deaths.
The events of April 9 accelerated the Georgians' efforts to become independent from the Soviet Union, and precisely two years later, the country adopted its Declaration of Independence.
Every year on May 9, Georgia pays homage to the 1945 victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany. The surrender document was signed in Berlin late at night on May 8, 1945. Due to the time difference, it was already May 9 in Moscow. Consequently, Victory Day was celebrated throughout the Soviet Union on May 9, and while some countries now observe the holiday on May 8, the original date has held fast in Georgia.
Vake Park in Tbilisi is the central celebration site for Victory Day. Flowers are laid in front of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to the Georgian soldiers who fought and died in World War II. People gather to celebrate at the memorial and honor the elderly veterans in attendance. The celebrations are accompanied by concerts and cultural events. Similar ceremonies take place across the nation, although on a smaller scale.
Saint Andrew was the brother of Saint Peter and the first Apostle called by Jesus. Traditionally, the Patriarch of Constantinople is his apostolic successor.
The Orthodox Church of Georgia considers Saint Andrew to be the first preacher of Christianity in the territory of Georgia and thus the founder of the Georgian church. His memory and significance are celebrated twice a year, on May 9 and December 13. The first date is a national holiday and is marked with special liturgies held in churches in honor of Saint Andrew.
Independence Day celebrates the anniversary of the 1918 proclamation of independence which established the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
This significant day on the Georgian calendar is celebrated with military parades, cultural and educational events, fireworks and grand speeches. People also use the holiday as an opportunity to promote local products and intellectual ideas. Vendors sell handmade goods, public and private institutions invite visitors to explore their premises, and concerts and exhibitions are held in every sizable city across the country. The whole day is dedicated to celebrating the history and culture of Georgia.
Mariamoba commemorates the dormition (ascension into heaven after death) of Jesus' mother Mary. Churches throughout the country hold special services, which are attended by thousands of Georgians. The biggest one takes place in Tbilisi and is conducted by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.
The holiday is preceded by a two-week fast, during which religious Georgians refrain from eating meat (including fish), dairy products and eggs. The fast ends on Mariamoba with large family and community feasts.
Svetitskhoveli or Svetitskhovloba takes place in the town of Mtskheta, one of the oldest cities of Georgia and its former capital. The festival celebrates Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Mtskheta as a whole.
Legend has it that the cathedral stands on the site chosen by Saint Nino (a woman who preached Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century) for the first Georgian Church. As the original building was destroyed during one of many wars plaguing the region, the current Svetitskhoveli was built in the first half of the 11th century by the architect Arsukidze, who had been commissioned by Melchizedek I, the first Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.
Svetitskhoveli is believed to hold the robe in which Jesus was crucified, known as the chiton. A Georgian Jew from Mtskheta was said to have bought the robe from a Roman soldier after Jesus' death and brought it to Georgia. Upon arrival, he met his sister Sidonia, who touched the robe and died instantly from strong emotion. As they were unable to pull the chiton out of her grasp, it was buried along with Sidonia.
Sidonia's grave was preserved, and with time a large cedar tree grew out of it. Saint Nino requested the tree be chopped down and made into seven wooden columns. One of the pillars turned out to have miraculous properties, rising high into the sky and returning to earth only after Nino's fervent prayers. Later it began to leak a sacred substance which could cure diseases. In appreciation of its unique nature, Georgians decided to name the new cathedral Svetitskhoveli or "Living Pillar."
Today, Svetitskhoveli is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of a complex of Mtskheta historical monuments Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit the site annually to pay homage to its history and sacral importance. On Svetitskhovloba, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia comes to conduct a special ceremony, including a mass baptism. A series of concerts and cultural performances are also held, in which people don traditional costumes to dance, sing and enjoy delicious Georgian cuisine. Festivities last the whole day and are an excellent way to learn more about the traditions and culture of Mtskheta.
November 23, or Giorgoba, is a special public holiday in Georgia held in honor of the martyrdom of the patron of Georgia, Saint George.
George, a Greek soldier from Cappadocia and a guard of the Roman emperor Diocletian, was sentenced to death for being a Christian. George is one of the most venerated saints in Christianity and is strongly connected to knighthood, warriors and the military. He is believed to have slain a dragon that demanded human sacrifices and often appears in Christian iconography while fighting against the monster.
Contrary to popular belief, Georgia, called Sakartvelo in the Georgian language, wasn’t named after Saint George. The country's name is an anglicization of the word gurj, a deviation of the Persian gurj or gurjān, meaning wolf. Still, Georgians' devotion to Saint George dates back to the early Middle Ages. It is said that there are precisely 365 churches in Georgia named after Saint George, one for each day of the year.
Saint George is believed to be first depicted as a symbol of Georgia in the 12th century, on the seal of King George III. Today, his image is a part of the country's national emblem.
Georgians celebrate their patron twice a year, on May 6 and November 23, but only the latter is a state holiday. According to legend, the first festival in honor of Saint George was started by Saint Nino, believed to be Saint George's cousin.
On Saint George's Day, bells ring in every church across the country and special liturgies are held to seek the saint's favor. Despite commemorating his torturous death, Giorgoba is a joyful celebration spent with friends and families amid feasting, dancing and the singing of traditional songs.
Georgian festivities are some of the most exciting, colorful events of the year, and it's worth taking them into consideration when arranging your tour to the South Caucasus. The joyful atmosphere, combined with natural Georgian hospitality, is a fun way to gain insight into local customs and beliefs.