Nauryz, the New Year Eve from the steppe
The most important celebration in Central Asia is undoubtedly the Nayriz (literally “March”) that falls on March 21st during the spring equinox. And it is indeed the beginning of spring to be celebrated; as the end of the winter cycle and the return to life, to the nature that regains its luxuriance after the long months of cold and snow.
This festivity is very much felt by the local population; every city organizes for the event concerts, exhibitions, folk dances and performances of the most ancient traditions linked to the territory. In many squares the famous yurts are installed, the tents where the nomads used to live. A circular wooden skeleton is covered with goatskins, protected by impermeable sheets; while the interior is decorated with multicolored carpets each of which has a precise meaning. During the party it is possible to enter and participate in organized banquets. On low tables are served typical dishes such as goat cheese, milk of camel or mare (shubat and kumyz), dried fruit, fried bread (baursak); all accompanied by the traditional chai (hot tea) with milk.
It’s possible to assist at national games such as national wrestling; where the two fighters confront each other with typical clothes on flashy podiums. Or, in long pens surrounded by crowds, some riders parade with hawks and eagles perfectly equipped like steppe’s hunters: leather garments and fur-covered hats. Do not miss the camels decorated with multicolored saddles and women in traditional clothes, with their funny pointed hats and long dresses with skirts made of thousand voulants.
On this occasion it is possible to see in action the Kyz kuu, or the chase between a boy and a girl. The game is so explained: the girl starts to gallop towards the boy, who is waiting, at a certain distance. Once reached, the boy starts running chasing the girl to the set goal. If the boy is able to grasp her, he will win a kiss. Instead, if he fails, the girl will start to chase him along the way back with a whip trying to hit him.
Even more spectacular is the Tyiyn Emmei, where the rider must try to collect a coin from the ground, galloping at full speed! To succeed, he must be able to slide with his body on the ground; balancing himself in a contraction of muscles letting the audience in suspense.
Being in the family
Every company and school is closed for about 5 days during the Nauryz’s period. Families take the opportunity to stay together; they gather with the most distant relatives and spend their days cooking the most traditional dishes, such as the beshbarmak (five fingers), a dish prepared with wide-spread pasta and lots of meat, including the kazy, horsemeat sausage.
It is installed everywhere the Kazakh swing, Altybakan (“six pillars”); where the wooden axis is at least two meters long and placed close to the ground and tied by a 6-pillar rope. The youth who play are positioned in two at the ends of the swing; I saw boys going very high while they were playing. Until some decades ago, Altybakan was usually played by a boy and a girl; while others, next to them, played love songs with the dombra. It was thus used to approach the opposite sex by favoring friendship and, sometimes, love.
Nauryz is definitely the most interesting party to attend, since it gives the opportunity to explore many local traditions; however the climate is not yet the best for traveling between the various natural sites of the northern regions.