The normal Christmas-New Year holiday season for me comes with decorating a Christmas tree, making cookies with my mom and sister, and going shopping to buy presents. Less than a week later, I join some friends to bring in the New Year. Those events were slightly different this year.

Christmas is not celebrated in Azerbaijan because it is a Muslim country. The Americans who live in Azerbaijan do celebrate Christmas. I joined 40 other volunteers who trekked their way to Sheki to celebrate at a volunteer’s house. Sheki is a beautiful city because it is surrounded by mountains; everywhere you look is just gorgeous. However to my disappointment there wasn’t any snow . It was a weekend extravaganza that went from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. We arrived on Friday, hung out, and partied which included dancing! And yes I definitely joined in with the dancing. Saturday was more relaxing. Some people went for a hike to the fake castle in the mountains. Others of us got Sheki chicken which was delicious. It was at a tiny whole-in-the-wall restaurant that just serves marinated chicken. The restaurant can hold about 20 people at most, and when you walk in, you actually pass by the kitchen. Later in the afternoon we all reconvened and went to watch Elf at the movie theater. The volunteers talked to the people who owned the theater so that we could watch this particular movie there. After the movie, we made our way down to the restaurant in a hotel. It was a beautiful hotel and looked very upscale, even for western standards. Our Christmas meal was………a hamburger! An actual hamburger, with a bun, regular cheese, tomato, and ketchup! I never realized I missed having a real hamburger until I was eating it. The night was followed up by more dancing and a white elephant exchange. A fun time, but I still missed my Christmas traditions.

Where's Morgan?!?

New Years seemed more like Christmas to me. New Years in Azerbaijan is a pretty big deal. Although New Years is actually just 1 day, they take 5 days to celebrate it. They celebrate New Years by decorating a Christmas tree, taking pictures with Santa, making cookies and a special meal, hanging out with family, and sometimes they even exchanging gifts. Sounds like Christmas right? Well to make it even more Christmas-like, stores decorated their windows with “Happy New Year” and a rabbit because 2011 is the year of the rabbit. There are even songs about New Years plus they play some of our Christmas songs!!

I ended up spending actual New Years in Ganga with some volunteers and with my friend Sabina who was my Azerbaijani teacher while I was in training. New Years was pretty low-key. A few of us went to Sabina’s house and had dinner with her family. Once we packed our bellies full of food, we had a dance party. After dinner we went to a former volunteer’s (AZ5) house where we were actually going be to staying. That night we just hung out, played games, and went down to the main square for the midnight celebration. There were going to be fireworks at midnight, but that ended up not happening. We hung around in the square with a bunch of other strangers until everyone starting yelling and setting off fire-crackers and such. I asked my friend Donna why everyone was yelling. She looked at her clock and said, “It’s 12!” Saturday was just a relaxing day. On Sunday, I returned home to find a family celebration. My mom’s brother’s family came over for lunch. We ate the special meal they prepared (and I had helped prepare before I headed to Ganja) which consisted of different kinds of salads, chicken, sweet rice, and special cakes and cookies. By the end of the weekend, I was ready to crash and spend the day in bed!

Donna, Alyse, and I in Ganja close to midnight in the main square

Main Square in Ganja