A couple of decades ago, the country of Kazakhstan did not exist and not many people knew what was going on in this part of the world. As a former state of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was shrouded in mystery, myths and legends. Today, Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian country, is open to scrutiny and for enjoyment by anyone from anywhere in the world. Local culture and festivals in Kazakhstan are now an open book.
Nauryz or Islamic New Year Festivals and Feasting in Kazakhstan
The world today is amazed to know about the rich traditions of the Kazakh people. The locals are traditionally respectful of old people, patriotic, honest, loving and proud of their local celebrations and festivals but these local characteristics have been suppressed for so many years under Soviet rule. Now that the country has won sovereignty, the real beauty of this county, as well as its people and culture, is beginning to shine quite brightly. Sadly, though, some traditions and customs have been forgotten as they were not practiced or retold for many years.
Some common traditions that are coming back to life is the honoring of guests with traditional welcome foods served on a low table called “dastarkha” inside a yurt, a traditional movable house, almost like a tent. A yurt is made up of a “kerege” or trellis base, “uyk” or the dome that is made of poles and “Shanyrak”, a round top. Yurts are richly decorated and covered with felt and carpets.
Kazakhs are also natural poets. Local poets (“akyns”) engage in public wordplay competitions (“aitys”) as traditional stringed musical instruments are played on the background. The stringed instruments are called “dombra” or “kobyz”.
The most important and much awaited national festival and feasting is the Nauryz or Islamic New Year that happens on March 22, corresponding to the spring equinox and extends for almost a month. City streets and local towns light up with merrymaking, dances, music and tons of local foods. Guests are led inside beautifully decorated yurts to feast on a traditional dish called “Nauryz Kozhe”, a meal with seven traditional ingredients. This is a special holiday in which people are compelled to forgive each other’s debts and trespasses. Kazakhstan is a Muslim country. Islam completely took over the country in the 19th century, although today there are other religious groups such as Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholics. The Nauryz Holiday is observed throughout Central Asia.
Other important national events are Constitution Day (January 28), Victory Day (May 12) and Ramadan. Constitution Day commemorates the establishment of the Constitution of the Kazakhstan Republic with street festivals, fireworks and parades. Victory Day, on the other hand celebrates Russian victory over Germany in the Second World War with military parades and honoring veterans. Ramadan, of course, is a religious celebration, the leading Islamic celebration that involves fasting and thanksgiving.
Local culture and festivals in Kazakhstan also involves Christian and Western practices and events such as New Year’s Day (January 1), International Women’s Day (March 8), Labor Day (May 1), Russian Orthodox Easter, Valentine’s Day (February 14), April Fool’s Day (April 1), and Christmas Day (December 25).