another new year in armenia

On the last night of 2009 I was sitting with my best Peace Corps friend, Zoë, talking late into the evening about New Year’s resolutions.  We almost missed the New Year, and with moments to spare we ran outside with pots and pans to ring in the new year with a metallic clamor.

This year I was invited by my friend and co-worker, Gayane, to spend the evening of the 31st with her family.  When I called to confirm the plans, I found out that they had already prepared a room for me to sleep in after we had toasted and danced and otherwise welcomed in the New Year into the wee hours.

After wishing my mom and sister a happy new year over Skype, I wandered in the dark, calling friends to spread around the holiday cheer.  Of course, without street lights Gayane’s house became hard to find (re: impossible).  Eventually Vartan, Gayane’s husband found me wandering the dark, cold streets.  I finally showed up in time to hang balloons around the newly renovated living/dining room.  Little Rueben assisted me, trying his hardest to blow up the balloons before handing their slobbery spouts over to me to tie.

When the party started, we ate every delicious thing available on an Armenian Nor Tari (New Year) menu:  salads and dolma and khorovats and tkhvatsk and more.  We toasted the New Year, shnor-havoring all around  We danced and stuffed ourselves into a food coma which took us to bed around 2:30am.

The real surprise came in the morning.  After a very strangely dry winter, I woke up, finally, to a white spread over our little Armenian town.  I reached up to wipe a spot in the fogged window of my guest room and gazed out onto that tireless cliché, that winter wonderland.

Being from seasonless Texas, I finally get why people dream of that White Christmas thing.  It’s one of the world’s miracles.  The entire landscape becomes absolutely new.  Streets and homes and trees and hills have a new shape.  The place is quiet, and in between racing out of doors to marvel at the new world, we huddle together near the wood stove or under throw blankets drinking in warmth from tea cups and from the souls of people we love.

After looking outside at this new little town of mine, I crawled back in to bed to write in my journal.  I heard Rueben stumble across the wood floor to look under the Nor Tari tree to see what Grandfather Winter brought he and his brother.  He raced back and yell-whispered, “Maaaa!”  I didn’t hear any movement after that and assumed the tot crawled back into bed wide eyed and anxious.

When they finally woke up, I pulled clothes over my long johns and joined them in the living room.  There the boys played with their gifts.  I immediately dove onto my stomach in front of the new hockey/foosball game and challenged Rueben to a game on the ice. Later we set up a firing range of stuffed animals; Mom, Dad, the boys and crazy uncle Brent took turns with Narek’s new bow & arrow.

Then to breakfast, a comfortable meal of blinchik and tea, before we went out to take on the snow.  We built a snow man which I destroyed with an old car battery. It would have made a cool head for that dzyni mart, but of course I was ignoring physics entirely which I tend to do.  No matter; the chunks of snowy body made a perfect pre-fab pile of snow balls to use in the shortly ensuing battle which ended with a crying three year old and a wet but eventaully triumphant me (take that Vartan jan!).

I left their house thinking I’d go home for a few alone hours before going out to visit more friends, but this holiday wasn’t letting go.  The storybook feel continued as I met an old grandmotherly woman in a magenta bathrobe who talked to me about her hopes for the new year and for whom I shoveled a path from from her home to the road.   Her well wishes followed me down the street while I listened to my Sufjan/Brandon Kinder/Arcade Fire/Destiny’s Child/Vince G Mega Christmas mix, giving my heart again to Sister Winter.

Finally, before coming here to write this blog post I ran into a blonde grandmother with her three grandsons.  She was tugging them on an old metal sled down the sidewalk.  I asked to take their picture which turned into me pulling those tiny boys through the white powder in circles like my own Dad used to do for me on Texas ice days.  The blonde grandmom invited me back to their house in true Armenian fashion and spread before me a feast of pases dolma, beet salad, more vodka, more tkhvatsk and a final cup of Armenian coffee before I walked back out into this white wonder of a town.


  1. It feels like I’m there with you….what a great post…and holiday! The photos are classic, esp. the one through the window.

    I live near NYC and we’ve just gotten a lot of snow; as a Canadian I grew up with the breathtaking beauty a snowfall literally bestows on the roughest of landscapes — and that silence! Snowfall is amazing so I’m delighted you experienced it.

    We non-Armenian readers need a glossary of food and drink terms! It all sounds delicious…..but what is it?!

  2. Love, love, love all this hospitality and winter magic. Happy New Year, Brento.

  3. Thank you so much Brent for filling my heart and soul with your wonderful winter wonderland of Armenian loved ones. I see so clearly why you love them so and what a blessing I have some of that love too stored away in my heart. You are bless with words to express so well the joy that is front of us everyday if we stop long enough to love and be loved. Thank you for your words and pictures. They warm my heart. I love you sweet son! Enjoy each moment for it is a gift from our God who is so GREAT!

  4. So glad this will be the last thing I read before I fall asleep! Those pictures are gorgeous! I’m so happy for your happiness!

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