In my village, however, there is no church and after yesterday's celebration there are quite a few cultural traditions left unexplained. Even though this is my second 'hopping over the fire' holiday here I haven't been able to find anyone in my extended host family who can explain the behaviors of February 13th.
The celebration is for newlyweds or newly engaged couples. If you happen to be fortunate to have one of these pairs in your family you have a fire to jump over and a party to attend. This year we had two in our family--both parties starting at 5 p.m.
Everyone arrived and a fire was lit in the street. The women gathered up beautifully wrapped bowls of baked grains and popcorn in addition to horovats and vodka. There's also a traditional dish called halva (although I think it's enjoyed in Russia too) that they carry out to the fire. Women surrounded the couple and everyone walked around the fire seven times. My friend Sargis told me that they walk around seven times in hopes of the bride having a boy and eight times for a girl. For the record, I can't imagine an Armenian couple walking around eight times. Regardless, the theory was quickly negated this morning when my host grandpa infomed me that the next step in the celebration process-of actually jumping over the fire- is what leads to fertility.
Seven times around (I later learned that this could be for seven days of the week...or maybe because 7 is a lucky number)...
Three times over...
After leaping over the fire three times a relative took one of the sticks and burnt a mark into the bottom of each of the couples pant legs.
Me: "Why is she burning their pants?"
Grandma: "To let all the bad things and illness come out."
Me: "Illness comes out of the bottom of our pants?"
The couple was handed a pair of candles and they lit each wick from the fire in the street. The candles were left burning for the duration of the party.
My host grandfather says that God looks down on earth and sees all the fires burning on this day and decides to change the weather. All the heat also helps of course. This is why it starts to get warmer after February 13th. Try telling that to my friends up in Gyumri who still have another solid three months of winter ahead of them.
After this we all went inside. Well, some of us. One of my favorite relatives decided she also wanted to jump over the fire three times. I'm not sure if she was wishing for fertility (she already has three kids my age) or just wanted to see if she could do it.
The party inside was just like any other party table with BBQ, dolma, fruits, candies, cold cuts, olives, cheese and lots of bread. We ate and toasted to: The couple, their grandparents, their parents, uncles, aunts, even me and my family. Each toast is followed by its own thank you toast. Needless to say there was a lot of vodka flowing.
After two parties I returned home and handed each of the four kids a piece chocolate. After all, isn't chocolate the most important aspect of Valentine's Day anyway?
Happy Valentines Day--I love you.