Winter Holiday Traditions in Tlefas


I’ve been getting ready for Christmas and the New Year, and am having fun following the traditions I’ve built up over the years. Like most people, I put up a Christmas tree and a few decorations. My husband had fun when I pulled out the mistletoe. I indulged my love of baking by making all kinds of cookies to share with family, friends, and my husband’s co-workers.

In Tlefas, naturally, they don’t have a holiday that started with Jesus’ birth. But they do celebrate the New Year.

In the villages…

Everyone cleans their houses, places of work, and common areas of the town. It’s considered a volunteer act to help sweep streets and workplaces, but everyone knows they need to show up.

The last Saturday of Urartu, the last month of the year, is a special day to commemorate getting through another year in safety. The whole village gathers for a moment of silence to remember those who died during the past year.

Then they celebrate with special meal, consisting of mutton, a stew of potatoes, carrots and cabbages. As a treat they have some fruit, nuts and a small loaves of white bread.

The local school organizes games for the children. All are non-competitive. The children are divided into teams and the teams have to complete a task together. Everyone gets prizes in the form of nuts or dried fruit.

In villages, the whole village gathers in the town hall. The larger towns divide up by trade union or district, as does the capital.

Meanwhile, the riskers…

Are also cleaning their houses. Some time during Urartu, they start sprouting lentil seeds to symbolize the rebirth of the New Year.

Then they celebrate the New Year with a big party that lasts all night. They gather in different homes to feast on roast war boar, deer, fish, spiced cakes, candy, wine, bread baked in braids and twists. Young men will dress up in grey costumes and masks, do tricks and play pranks on the little kids. The women bribe them with cakes to get them to give the kids the candy, nuts and carved wooden toys, such as dolls or toys.

If the weather is fine, they all troop out to the center of the camp and build a bonfire. They dance, drink, have an impromptu concert. Everyone has to contribute to the entertainment with a song, joke, or story. Elders tell stories of the sky-god and how he helped them flee the civil war and set up camps.

At some point during the evening, all the marriageable young men stand in a circle. They each have a small pile of corn in front of their feet. A hen is set free in the circle. Whoever the hen eats from, he will be next to be married. If both moons are out, they’ll repeat the game with the marriageable girls, using a rooster in place of the hen. One of the elders will half an apple and look at shapes in the core to see if they can tell what will happen in coming year.

Depending on the weather, some of the riskers will stay outside all night, to greet the first dawn of the New Year.

As far as the bandits…

They celebrate by doing as much raiding as they can during the fall, so they have enough to see them until spring, just in case weather too bad for caravans to travel. Some have been known to pose as traders and join the village celebrations in larger towns where it wouldn’t be too obvious a few extra folks are hanging around. They of course pick up whatever stuff is lying around that they are sure the villagers would want them to have.

And the pirates?

No one knows. They usually sail south for the winter, to unknown parts.

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