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Celebrating the New Year, Gulhayo Kobilova

Celebrating the New Year

Gulhayo Kobilova, April 2014

A usual calendar says December 31st is New Year’s Eve, but I tell you that is not true. At least, it is not true for me.  Having spent 8 months as the Uzbek Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant, I have had the lucky opportunity to celebrate New Year’s over 3 months here at Indiana University.  I started welcoming the beginning of the New Year with the Russian calendar, continued with the Mongolian 3-day celebration of the New Year, moved onto the Chinese New Year, kept having a blast at the Tibetan New Year celebration, and finished with the Persian “Navruz” holiday.  These are five different approaches to the New Year, but the core is the same.  The beginning of the New Year is about opening a new chapter in life and most importantly, celebrating hope together with your community through pleasant national music and songs.  All five of these events happen in the geographic territory of Asia, but this does not lessen the differences among them.  I have been celebrating the Russian New Year and Navruz since I was born.  But now I know how Mongolian people celebrate with a three-day New Year party: the first day for relatives, the second with colleagues, and the third with friends.  Then you must eat for at least 2 hours at the table while enjoying a chat with your Mongolian host.  According to their tradition, whatever you eat, like mantu (steamed big dumplings), you should take in an odd number. This was interesting for me, because in Uzbek culture we take everything in an even number, mostly by multiples of 2.  Everything should be in pairs. 

I would have enjoyed celebrating Chinese New Year last year, because I could have worn an outfit entirely in red.  In Chinese culture, if the coming year is your horoscope year, you must wear at least one red item of clothing.  The Tibetan New Year, Losar, stands out in my memory with their lively performance of folk songs.  The Tibetan people have beautiful melodies, and the rhythm they use reminded me of the forests and mountainous beauty of Tibet.  Enjoying food at these different events, I knew that Central Asia got mantu from China, but seeing Mongolian and Tibetan mantu styles showed me that all nomadic nations share mantu recipes with each other.

Last but not least, Navruz, the holiday I wait for every spring to arrive.  The IU celebration had only one difference compared to all my previous Navruz celebrations.  I felt very close to humanity while rejoicing with so many international students speaking Persian and Central Asian Languages.  Thank you to Indiana University for giving me so many opportunities to compare cultures and celebrate humanity.