Armenians, as an ancient nation with continuous existence of thousands of years and very little mixing and mingling until the recent decade or two, have deep-rooted customs and traditions. Some of them are almost obsolete, some are preserved to a greater degree in rural areas than urban, and some are still there no matter how odd or unbelievable. In this article, we are presenting to you some of the most unusual of them. If you’re ready to tour Armenia and explore, welcome!
Kissing and Holding Hands
The kiss on the cheek and a light hug is an ordinary way to greet friends in Armenia. You’d think they have not seen each other for months or years, but they might have had lunch together earlier that afternoon. Won’t hurt to kiss once more. Of course, if you are meeting the person for the first time a handshake or just a “hello, nice to meet you” will do, but be prepared to get some tenderness once you get to know the person a bit better.
Holding hands in the street girl with a girl, guy with a guy is also something you’ll see a lot. This is a sign of friendship in the majority of cases. If a guy and a girl are holding hands though, it most probably means they are a couple and monogamy is widespread, so please be cautious.
Water for Luck (let me purify you)
In a land with such limited water reservoirs, people have known the worth of water and its life-giving quality. Many traditions related to life, appreciation and good luck involve water in one way or another.
One of the most beautiful holidays in Armenia is Vardavar, the day when you can’t be a snob. The holiday is now considered a Christian one, but has its roots in the pagan traditions and is related to Goddess Astghik, the Goddess of water and purity.
If you’re going to nag about getting wet, then stay home, because Armenians get out there and pour water on anyone who looks like they are not happy to be alive. It’s a way to purify and to wake up from the routine and you can have the time of your life, if you are willing to be a child again. Water is also poured on the path by family females for good luck, when the son is taken to the army for instance, or if it’s a long journey from home someone embarks on.
The Salty Cookie of Love (where’s my special one?)
Coinciding with the Valentine’s day on February 14th, Armenians celebrate their own Day of Love – Saint Sargis. Couples and singles jumping over fire for good luck and marriage is one of the beautiful traditions of the day. Another one is the Salty Cookie. Elderly women, specialized in the trade, will make really salty cookies according to a special recipe. It is meant for the unmarried young, both men and women, to be eaten before bedtime. According to the tradition, thirst will make you see a person in your dream, someone you know or a complete stranger, who will bring you a cup of water to drink. If you’re lucky to see and remember the face, be sure to believe that they are going to be your future spouse. If you don’t see anyone, then maybe try next year!
Animal Sacrifice and the Red Blood Cross (the pagan spirit is still there)
This one’s a remnant of the pagan times. Animal (sheep, goat or sometimes even rooster) sacrifice is either promised for something to happen or is carried out as a gratitude for something like recovering from bad illness, being able to conceive a child or even get accepted to university.
The animal is purchased and killed either by professionals or by the male members of the family. This is sometimes done in the yard of the apartment building, surrounded by neighbors and children. A frequent practice is to draw a cross with the animal blood on the foreheads of the gathered children for good luck and protection. The meat of the animal is then cooked and distributed in the neighborhood, not consumed by the family alone. Fancy a bowl?
Funeral: Triple Rotation Around Own Axis (you’ll be damaged for life)
The grief of a family is to be respected at all times, but let’s look at some unusual ways Armenians used to (the tradition is still practiced sometimes) say their final farewells. The lid of the coffin is placed at the entrance to the apartment to signify a death. This shows everyone in the neighborhood that relative calm and silence need to be preserved. The body in the coffin is placed on a table inside the apartment for the relatives and friends to come and say their goodbyes to the deceased and express condolences to the family.
On the day of the funeral, the coffin with the body is taken out of the apartment and into the yard, where neighbors will gather to see the person off. Before it is placed in a funeral vehicle to take to the cemetery, the coffin is rotated three times around its axis for all the gathered to take a final look. The rest goes as usual, but Armenia will never be usual for you after this.
As diverse as beautiful, there are so many other customs and traditions to explore here during festivals and holidays, during visits and gatherings, in churches and on trips to ancient sites. Need a guide to make sure you get exposed to the most exciting and adventurous parts of Armenia? Let us know!