20 March 2013

Nauruz - A traditional Kazakh New Year Celebration

Nauruz is the Kazakh name for the month of March – it is also the name of the Kazakh New Year and spring festival.  This is a traditional festival now celebrated across central Asia.  During the Soviet years Nauruz was not celebrated but, since independence, Kazakhstan has returned to celebrating with gusto. 

Spring is, of course, a time of new beginnings and the start of a 'new year' indeed.  In years gone by the UK celebrated New Year on Lady Day, 25 March, the remnants of this tradition can be seen with the end of the tax year being 5 April (due to the days added during the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar). 

We are actually able to to celebrate it this year as our snow is melting and our temperatures are above zero.  Last year it was well below freezing and blowing a blizzard which meant that celebrations were rather muted.  Over recent days the city has been gearing up for the celebrations.  All the women’s day decorations have stayed up and have been joined by even more flowers and banners.  Yurts have sprung up at parks and cross roads around the city as a base for special events and a light display is showing on and around the Baiterek. 
Astana Baiterek at Nauruz
Nauruz displays around the city.
Yurt Astana
Traditional Yurt
Nauruz is celebrated on the equinox.  The children have time from school for Nauruz itself and the following week so the school celebrated the festival today.  They go to an English school, Haileybury Astana that runs the British Curriculum but has children of all nationalities in the classes.  They love their school, while most lessons are in English they also learn both Russian and Kazakh. Our son in particular is very proud of speaking Kazakh and practices every day; he takes it very seriously and will even correct our pronunciation, he has been looking forward to Nauruz for some time.

Nauruz display
School Children Celebrate Nauruz
This morning the children all came to school in national dress, beautifully embroidered coats and hats for the men and stunning frilly dresses and tall feathered hats for the girls.  The school’s Kazakh department put on a special assembly all about Nauruz.  There were games for the children and staff – a timed wordsearch in Kazakh, a test on the ingredients for a traditional Nauruz dish Nauruz Kozhe and a game of Kaz Kouuu.  Kaz Kouu is a traditional game played on horseback (as horses would not fit in the assembly hall it was done with pretend horses Monty Python style).  The game is a race between a man and a woman – if the man wins he gets a kiss, if the woman wins she gets to beat him!  This morning the women won.  The event finished with Bata – a blessing and Shashu – a shower of sweets which is, of course, the children’s favourite part.

Kazakh Traditional Display
Traditional Kazakh homeware
In the afternoon the school held a ‘Kazakh Princess’ competition which I was invited to judge.  I was a little apprehensive about judging a ‘beauty contest’ particularly one that involved girls only rather than a joint male/female event but it was rather fun, rather reminiscent of a may queen celebration.  The older girls of 11 and 12 competed in a number of categories including crafts (they had to make their own Kazakh Hat), music, taste tests and mental dexterity.  The girls had obviously worked hard to prepare for the day and showcase their skills in front of all the children and parents. 

One of the things we love about our expat life is being able to celebrate not just our own traditions but also enjoy learning about and celebrating the traditions of our host country.  Over the next few days we will enjoy the holiday as a family and have fun exploring all the special Nauruz events in Astana.  

Nauruz Kuttuh Bolsuhn!

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. a lovely, uplifting post to celebrate the arrival of Spring and new beginnings.....

    thank you xxx

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