A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 9:

Family and Holidays

Habousi was home to many large families famous for their hard work. One of those was the Kojigian clan whose head, Zadour (Dzadur) Agha, equally distributed his estates, oxen, and other animals to the laborers of his family. His family members then established their own homes.

Life in Habousi was based on a patriarchal pattern. The father was the head of the family, and when the sons married they remained with their parents. Some families numbered at times forty or fifty men, women, and children. All sat together around the table for meals. They all lived in the same household under the supreme authority of the grandfather, with mutual love and respect. The grandmother was the housekeeper. The daughters-in-law obeyed her orders. Seldom was there discord in the family. The patriarch’s word was final in any argument.

When the patriarch died, the eldest son became the head of the family. When the grandchildren began to marry, some of the younger brothers would separate and form families of their own, keeping the same patriarchal pattern.

The villagers, both young and old, looked forward to the holidays. Holidays were celebrated with gaiety and merriment. The day before the holiday was the time for women to bake and cook. For New Year’s Day they baked biscuits in various shapes, covering them with sesame seeds.

New Year’s Eve was the time for Gaghant Baba to bring presents to the children. Gaghant Baba was the Santa Claus of the Armenians. At midnight everybody was awakened, and the merriment would began. They ate and drank till sunrise, singing and making merry. Young women and girls took their new jugs and went to the spring to drink the fresh water they believed was mixed by St. Sarkis. Weak or sick children, totally naked, took bathes in the pool of the same spring to recover and become strong. It was customary for everyone to drink from St. Sarkis’ water and wash at least their faces before returning home to congratulate the New Year and to enjoy the delicious food. Many would climb the nearby mulberry bushes, asking: “Do you want me to drop mulberries?” Others would answer, “Be real! There are no mulberries in this cold winter.”

The following day they would have buffalo fights, horse racing, games, and all sorts of fun. New Year was a day of physical enjoyment. In ancient times, before Christianity was adopted as a state religion in Armenia in 301 A.D., Armenians celebrated the New Year in August, in the month called Navasart, when wheat was ripe and the harvest was abundant. Afterwards, the New Year was celebrated according to the Julian Calendar, which was thirteen days ahead of the Gregorian Calendar. So New Year’s day fell on the 14th day of January by the Calendar we now observe. Six days later came Christmas, on January 19. As a religious holiday, Christmas was celebrated by religious ceremonies.

The biggest religious celebration for Habousetzies and for all Armenians was Easter, which followed seven weeks of Lent. Lent was a time of strict fasting for purification. Pots and pans were cleaned with sand to prevent the use of meat and oil during Lent.

Since there was no means to keep track of time, an ingenious method was devised to count the seven weeks of Lent. An onion with seven feathers stuck in it was hung by a thread at the fireplace, and every week one feather was plucked from it. The sixth feather denoted Palm Sunday. Easter would follow a week later, when the last feather was plucked from the onion.

With Easter came colored eggs. Mothers boiled eggs in onion skins and some vegetables with dye-like qualities. Couples engaged to be married decorated their eggs and wrote their names on them with bees wax. Every man and boy went out with pockets full of colored eggs and participated in the game of egg fighting. Each man challenged a friend or a neighbor to an egg fight. One held the egg in his fist and the other man tapped on it with his. The broken egg was turned to its bottom and tapped again. The egg that cracked on both ends first lost. The winner would take the broken egg.

The egg fights in Habousi took place in the square before the church and in two other squares, one by the Narjun Spring and the other by the Galer Spring. The fights began on Good Friday and lasted until Easter Sunday evening.

Easter was also celebrated in the church with a special Mass, embellished with soul-stirring sharagans (prayers). The Easter holiday continued until Monday. During the holiday, relatives, friends and neighbors visited each other and offered each other the good tidings: “Christos haryav i merelotz” which was answered by “Orhnial e haroutune Christosi”. (Christ is risen from the dead. Blessed is the resurrection of Christ.)

The following games provided entertainment for young Habou setzies who were frequently joined by their elders.

Anbarosh- Two equal groups were formed of four to six people. One of them was chosen to be a “pillow.” The “pillow” sat on the floor with his back to the wall. Another colleague bent down slightly and held on to the “pillow.” The other four colleagues bent similarly on the back of the first one and held each other. Members of the second group jumped, one after another, onto the backs of the bent people. When all had jumped, the count started from one to twenty with the condition that no one’s foot would touch the floor. The game continued after each count of twenty until someone fell down or his foot touched the floor. Then the groups switched roles.

Pass over- In this game one player held his two knees with his head bent between them and the other players had to jump over him, leaving a handkerchief or a hat on his back. Whoever let the hat or handkerchief fall would replace the first player. There was no limit to the number of participants in this game.

The Monday- Two groups were formed composed equally of eight to twelve people. The first group bent their heads half to one side and half to another, while grabbing each others’ clothes or a rope. Fellows from the second group jumped on each of them shouting “Monday,” then “Tuesday,” and so on, until “Sunday.” Then the teams switched roles.

Jumping in three steps- One player bent down and the others jumped over him by taking three steps only. Then the first jumper had to increase the number of steps from three to four, to five, etc. The other players followed the first jumper. The bender had to constantly move to the spot where the first jumper reached and pointed to with his foot. The game continued until the first jumper wasn’t able to go any further. At that time he became the bender and others jumped over him.
Thus everyone had a chance to jump and to bend.

These are but a few of the numerous games Habousetzies played.

Women danced in large numbers and in groups; girls, brides, and old women all together. They held each other’s hands and turned round and round. A woman with a sweet voice headed the group singing.

Others followed her lead in both singing and dancing. The dances were numerous, some designated for special occasions.