Kazakhstan to a Nittany Lion

My thoughts and perspective on Kazakhstani culture. (These are my thoughts and opinions alone and do not reflect the policies or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Наурыз Құтты Болсын!

Happy Nauriz!

Between holidays from the States and Russian and Kazakh holidays here, it seems like every week is a different holiday. Since mid-February we have already celebrated five holidays here and are about to celebrate a sixth. The first was Valentine’s Day, then a Russian children’s holiday called Maslenitza, followed by a holiday formerly known as Soviet Army Day, now known as Men’s Day, celebrated on February 23rd. The next was International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th. And this week on March 22, but also celebrated a little before and after the 22nd, is Nauriz, Kazakh New Year.

For Maslenitza, a holiday celebrating the beginning of the end of winter, the celebrations were held outside in the schoolyard on an unseasonably warm day. A big tradition for Maslenitza is to cook bliny, or Russian pancakes, similar to French crepes. So at each class’s table set up in the yard there were piles of bliny, bowls of homemade raspberry jelly in which to dip the bliny, and samovars full of hot water for chai.

Each of the other holidays was celebrated inside in the gymnasium with a concert of singing and dancing. The Valentine’s Day concert even had a competition between different couples from the eighth through tenth grade for Valentine King and Queen. The couples had to compete in some dancing, composing a quick poem, and some arts and crafts. After the students’ celebrations, the teachers held their own celebrations. Similar to our New Year’s party, tables were arranged, covered with bread, fruit, and bottles of drinks, and skits, drinking, and dancing followed.

Women’s Day was also widely celebrated outside of school as well. We did not have school on March 8th or March 9th. Most people purchase flowers to give to women, but only in odd numbers, even numbers are for funerals, and maybe a card and gift as well. I celebrated the day at home with Babooshka and her daughter, Olga. Babooshka and I marinated and cooked shashleek on a grill outside. Shashleek, similar to shishkabob, is a popular food sold at many small stands on the street. The meat can be chicken, lamb, or pork. Even though Kazakhs are traditionally Muslim a lot of them do not adhere to the stricter Muslim food restrictions such as those on pork and alcohol. The shashleek we cooked was pork, marinated in a mixture of salt, pepper, and vinegar overnight, and cooked on skewers over a fire.

As for the latest holiday on the schedule, Kazakh Nauriz will be celebrated this week on the 22nd (Uzbek Nauriz is celebrated the 21st, I’m not sure about Kyrgyz). Nauriz marks the New Year for the Muslim calendar and coincides with the Vernal Equinox. From what I’ve been told so far, the equality of day and night plays an important role in the symbolism of the holiday. To prepare for the holiday, people clean their houses and try to resolve disputes they may have had with people. On the actual day lots of people head outside to the square to hear concerts or to the steppe where lots of yurts are set up and traditional Kazakh games are held. A lot of these games involve horseback riding originating from the Kazakh’s days as nomadic herders on the steppes. A lot of them require great horsemanship and trick riding. One of these games is wrestling while on horseback, trying to throw the other person off of their horse. Another, called kokpar (called buzkashi in other countries such as Afghanistan) is a game similar to polo involving a goat or sheep carcass. One game involving children called “Catch the Girl” has a girl set off on horseback and a boy on another horse trying to catch her. If he can overtake the girl he wins a kiss, but if he can’t he is whipped. I have yet to see any Nauriz celebrations or any of these games, so I am definitely looking forward to this holiday.

In between all of the holidays I have actually been working. I am still teaching my full schedule of classes at Gymnasium, my school, and I have also begun an English club at another school across town, Lytsay, that meets once a week. This past weekend was my school’s production of Kavean, a comedy competition between three teams. My team came in second. As for the weather, it has been getting warmer with the days around 10-12 Celsius (50s Fahrenheit) and the nights around or a little below freezing. Babooshka has been very busy in the garden preparing patches for cucumbers and will probably have the tomato plants in the ground outside by the end of the month after nursing them inside for the past month or so.

In conclusion, things are busy, still an adventure, and the streets are warming and drying out so the mud is no longer such an issue so that makes me happy. I hope you are all in good health and spirits and are enjoying a great beginning to spring and the warmer weather.




Anonymous student in UK said...

HI, you are mistaken, kazakhs do not celebrate maslenitza, and it's not kazakh holiday.It's Russian people's religious holiday and do not mix with kazakhs.I lived for so long in Kazakhstan, now study in UK and think first of all before writing.

6:04 AM  
Blogger anson said...

Thanks for reading my work. However, though Maslenitza is a Russian religious holiday, the students at my school, of Russian, Kazakh, and other nationalities, all took part in the Maslentiza celebrations. The religious aspect to the holiday was not emphasized and instead the focus was on bliny and childrens' games. For the record, Maslenitza was not celebrated this year (2008) for one reason or another.

11:09 AM  

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