ASTANA – Like Christmas in the western world, New Year is one of the highly-anticipated, cheerful and favourite holidays in Kazakhstan celebrated the night of Jan. 1.
“First and foremost, New Year is a family holiday; I think it always was. All family members want to gather and spend this special moment together,” entrepreneur Gulnara Ashirbayeva told The Astana Times. “Rarely some celebrate it at restaurants, because New Year in our country is an in-home holiday. People try to have an earlier small celebration among their friends and coworkers, so that they can reunite with their family for the main day.”
Wide-scale celebrations are usually held in cities and villages around dressed fir trees. Ded Moroz (Ayaz Ata in Kazakh, translated as Grandfather Frost) is a Slavic fictional character similar to Father Christmas and Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) is depicted as his granddaughter and helper during New Year parties for youngsters.
“New Year was always a special holiday for children. Many loved wearing costumes, circle dancing around the New Year tree and playing games. We expected presents from Ded Moroz at kindergarten and from our parents at home. We always got them on time, even as grown ups,” student Abai Kali shared with the paper.
A festive tree is one of the main attributes of New Year around the world. Kazakhs also keep this tradition and have a decorated evergreen in their homes, especially families with children. People traditionally begin celebrating the evening of Dec. 31.
The head of state traditionally addresses the people with a congratulatory speech minutes before midnight. People rush to get everything ready by that time, including food and decorations. Cleaning the home and throwing away old items is also an important part of transitioning to the new year.
“One the eve of New Year, we begin preparing salads, manty (dumplings) and other food. Now, days have changed; people have less and less time for making homemade dishes and buy ready-made food. For the past couple of years, our family chaotically has begun preparing hours before the New Year speech,” said Ashirbayeva.
Fireworks begin immediately after the President’s address, with people raising glasses of champagne (considered a traditional beverage for this occasion), congratulating each other and wishing great achievements in the new year.
“I remember sitting at home, watching cartoons and waiting in anticipation for the New Year to come and presents. Cold and snowing outside, cozy at home. This holiday always brings the warmest memories from childhood and traditional family gatherings at home,” said Kali.
The feast can last until morning. Some Kazakhs living abroad, however, claim they do not celebrate New Year with a big meal as they would at home. Some view this as waste of money, although for many families in Kazakhstan New Year is merely a modest family gathering once a year.
“After the clock ticked 12, we said ‘Happy New Year’ to each other and ate manty. Our father used to take me and my sister outside to shoot fireworks. Some years when the weather wasn’t too cold, he would drive us to an ice town. Boy, it was fun riding down an ice slide! New Year is truly a family holiday,” he said with a smile.
Nauryz (translated as “new day”), another popular Kazakh festivity, is celebrated March 22, the day of the spring equinox. Unlike New Year, Nauryz is a day for people to invite guests to their homes and visit their relatives and friends’ houses.