Georgia: A Country With a Culture Steeped in Pride and Distinct Beliefs

Georgia: A Country With a Culture Steeped in Pride and Distinct Beliefs

Bagrati Orthodox Cathedral, Kutaisi

Posted May 29, 2024

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European, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences intertwine in Georgia where two continents converge. You’ll see this through the architecture of Tbilisi where Art Nouveau mansions jostle alongside Persian-inspired courtyard residences and the bevy of spices and foodstuffs at markets. Although Georgian Kartuli with its unique alphabet is unlike any other language, its rhythm and some vocabulary overlap with Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Aramaic.

I spent just shy of two years in Tbilisi and one of my favorite questions to ask Georgian friends and acquaintances was whether they consider themselves Asian or European. It was a mixed bag, with more than one chortling that Sakartvelo is a continent in its own right.

The genuine warmth of Georgian hospitality, the stark rural beauty, and the magnetism of the cities have lingered with me since. Seeing the merrymaking erupt as the national team earned its inaugural spot in the UEFA Euro Men’s Championship took me back to this country with a culture steeped in pride and distinct beliefs.

Georgia Culture

Traditional Tbilisi Courtyard House

In Georgia Bread is Sacred

Georgia and bread are synonymous. It’s nigh impossible to resist picking up fresh shotis puri upon catching its scent wafting through the streets. Georgia’s emblematic boat-shaped bread is baked in a deep, clay oven called a tone.  All neighborhoods have at least one installed. Puri is the basis of the iconic Adjaruli khachapuri and is a natural accompaniment for the aromatic soups and stews prevalent in Georgian cuisine.

As well as being utterly delicious, puri is sacred in Georgia. I assumed the countless plastic bags stuffed with strips of bread were hung around the cities for those in need. There’s truth to this but it’s a cultural taboo to discard even stale bread.

Christmas is celebrated in January

Georgia is one of the few countries using the Julian calendar. As such, Christmas occurs on January 7 and December 25 is a normal day in Georgia. Some may attend a midnight mass on December 24 or join the festivities of foreign friends, but January is the main event.

Georgia is not alone in observing Christmas in January. Montenegro, Serbia, Belarus, and Russia also celebrate Orthodox Christmas. What is unique is the chichilaki custom.

These miniature trees are crafted from dried and curled branches from hazelnut or walnut trees and garnished simply with dried berries. Chichilaki trees are traditionally burnt on January 18, the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany, to symbolize a clean slate for the year ahead.

Festive displays generally include spruce trees and light installations whereas chichilaki are favored in private homes. As these trees were banned during Soviet occupation they stand for Georgian defiance and independence.

In Georgia, New Year’s Eve Happens Twice

As per the Julian calendar, Georgians observe New Year’s Eve on January 13. But – the Georgians aren’t one to pass up on a party. All regions mark “New” New Year’s Eve on December 31 by feasting with family, lighting fireworks, and celebrating until the wee hours with friends.

“Old” New Year’s Eve is a hushed occasion and generally brings families to the dinner table. Chacha (Georgia’s potent brandy) will flow, gozinaki (caramelized nuts and honey brittle) polished off. You’ll find this yuletide treat at markets in Tbilisi’s Orbeliani Square.

Georgia Culture

FlipFlops on Eggs unusual art in Batumi

Georgia has a “Lucky Day”

Between the riotous and family celebrations sits an auspicious day known as Bedoba. Georgians believe how January 2 pans out will determine the year ahead. Think of it like karma. if you visit Georgia over the holidays, use this day to manifest any New Year’s resolutions.

On this “lucky day” Georgians often gather with loved ones to eat their favorite foods. They might check into the sulfur baths for a pampering day or perform good deeds.

After waking up to sunny, bluebird skies, I headed out for a Bedoba wander around Tbilisi. I was ambushed with glasses of sparkling wine and Soviet trinkets from vendors at the Dry Bridge Market who refused to take a single lari. Georgians always have a cheery demeanor, but things are certainly cranked up a notch this day.

Georgia Culture paska cake at Orthodox Easter

Dyed boiled eggs and paska cake at Orthodox Easter

Easter is for Family…and Extreme Sports

Easter also differs from other countries. Firstly, Georgian Aghdgoma takes place later than in the West.

Most notable is the tradition of visiting family graves on Easter Monday. Georgian cemeteries are spectacular in their own right. Graves have seating areas and are typically ornamented with portraits or statues of the deceased.

This pinnacle of Holy Week is comparable to Mexico’s Día de los Muertos as Georgians devote the day to tucking into paska cake graveside and making toasts. They’ll have toiled away on Good Friday hard-boiling eggs and tinting their shells ruby-red with madder root for the occasion.

Exclusive to Shukhuti in Western Georgia, the nation’s toughest athletes gather to compete in Lelo Burti on Orthodox Easter Sunday. This ancient sport is similar to rugby but with a casual approach to rules and a ball 15 times heavier. It’s brutal yet good-natured and travelers are all the merrier to spectate.

Georgia Kartlis Deda statue

Kartlis Deda statue

Georgian Guests are a Gift From God

A 20-meter-tall statue of Kartlis Deda, the Mother of Georgia, presides over Tbilisi bearing a bowl of wine in her left hand and a sword in the right. This represents how Georgians greet guests. Those arriving as friends will receive copious amounts of wine (and more) whereas foes meet a different fate.

The Mother of Georgia isn’t just for show. Immigration officers at Tbilisi Airport hand out bottles of Saperavi while stamping passports.

You can anticipate further gifts when checking into accommodation in Georgia. Staying at rural guest houses has the added perk that any wine will likely be homemade. It’s usually decanted into empty soda bottles so take care not to muddle them.

My partner and I collected a hefty arsenal of wine, chacha, and preserves during our travels. We frequently returned to our Samgori rental to home-cooked meals and baked goodies courtesy of our host’s grandmother in the apartment above. I’ve even been handed fresh fruit from taxi drivers and sent away with bottles of chacha on the house from kindly restaurant owners.

Perhaps this belief explains why over 90 nationalities can stay in Georgia visa-free for 12 months.

 

Click Here for Discounted Accommodations in Georgia

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  • Hannah Cooper swapped her 9-5 for a nomadic life on the road, freelancing as an independent travel writer. Fuelled by a love of wildlife, watersports, wilderness, and wine, her travels have taken her jungle trekking in Sumatra, scuba diving in Malaysia, living off-grid in a campervan in New Zealand, and drinking the world’s oldest wine in Georgia.