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Monday, December 31, 2012

Living in Baku: New Year

Azerbaijan is kind of a strange place, culturally.  It's even strange geographically.  If you're trying to book a flight on Lufthansa, it's in the middle east.  According to State, it's in the European bureau.  But if you look on the map, it's really in Asia.  Since Istanbul is supposed to be the city on two continents - Asia and Europe and it's a four-hour flight east of Baku, Azerbaijan should definitely be in Asia.

Culturally it's just as confusing.  The place was originally settled by Turkic people, and the language is very similar to Turkish.  However, it also shares it's language with about a quarter of Iran, and the country is 98% muslim.  Owing to the Soviet influence, however, nobody here is very religious.  In Egypt it was pretty hard to find pork, or alcohol, at any restaurant but that isn't much a problem here.  So in Baku you get a little bit of everything.

There is a side benefit to this cultural mishmash - the holidays.  Ancient Persian holiday complete with jumping over a bonfire?  Check.  Ramadan?  Definitely, and the other feasts thrown in for good measure too.  Christmas and Thanksgiving?  If you're a U.S. Government employee, yup.  And to finish off the year, we get a Soviet Holiday thrown in too, New Year.

We have New Years in the U.S., but it's not like the New Year here.  Since the country is Muslim, nobody celebrates Christmas.  And in Russia, Christmas is celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar - January 7.  So they take all of the western Christmas traditions and transfer them to New Year.

Over the last few weeks the whole town has become covered with Christmas New Year trees decked in lights, ornaments, and occasionally watched over by an enormous blow-up frosty the snowman figure.  All of the stationary stores in the bazaar are converted to Christmas New Year shops with stacks and stacks of glittery ornaments.  The grocery stores have Christams New Year-themed candy displays, and bottles of bezalcoholiz sparkly drinks - evidently quince is the thing, not apple cider.

There is even Santa Claus Shakhta Baba (Ded Moroz) and his helper, Snegurochka, Snow Maiden who made an appearance at the embassy holiday party.

The best part about New Year however, is the best part of all non-American holidays when you're overseas with the government - the extra time off.  Monday is off for Azerbaijan's Day of Solidarity ("I can have solidarity with Azerbaijan any time they want!" a friend enthusiastically exclaimed when they heard about the day off).  Tuesday is off for U.S. New Years Day, and Wednesday is off for Azerbaijan New Year Holiday.  Combined with last week's two days off, we've been partying non-stop here in the Sherwood Family Residence.  We have very big plans to go over to friends for New Year's Eve and party until about, oh, seven-thirty or even eight o'clock if we're feeling extremely festive and Joseph is cooperating.  

Of course there's nothing like holiday envy to get you down.  I was feeling quite smug until I heard about Moscow - eight days off for New Year and Orthodox Christmas.  Maybe we'll have to look into Russia for the next post.


PaulaJean said...

But Russia is cold, very cold!! We'll visit in the summer.

PaulaJean said...

Don't you people ever work?