- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 26 , 2003 

Spirited Spending: For many, money worries are lost to holiday cheer as Yerevan becomes a New Year shopping bazaar

Yerevan is swept up in holiday shopping

Through the overlaid smoke of wood-burning stoves, Yerevan is smiling with holiday spirit. Holiday trees - this year more artificial ones than in the past - and the usual barrels full of nuts and fruits are a seasonal market for businesses looking to cash in on a few weeks of un-cautious spending that begins about December 20 and last through Christmas (January 6) and even Old New Year (January 13).

With pleasure, Arman Hambardzumyan braids two fir-tree branches together and then decorates shop windows with them.

"I can't wait for Christmas holidays to come. It's like a fairy tale between Old and New years, which lasts only several days. I made a tradition to decorate the store on December 15," he says.

Bright and happy colors of the city pass on to its citizens. By putting aside various problems people are happy to celebrate the New Year. Sellers in stores and markets are especially eager for the holidays.

"We hope we'll have good sales. In any case, we're optimistic. New Year is one of the most profitable times of the year. Many are making money throughout the year, awaiting this day. It's cold, and we stand here shaking, but what can we do?" says 46 year-old seller Karo Zakaryan.

It's been seven years that he and his sister Anahit Zakaryan are selling food at Yerevan's N1 market. They're selling nuts (peanuts, hazelnuts) and raisins and different kinds of dried fruit. The selection is bright and attractive. Customers are unintentionally turning their heads in that direction.

Fruits and nuts are a dominant theme of the New Year table.

Anahit shows with pride alanis (dried fruit stuffed with nut and sugar) made of various fruit. They are placed in special transparent boxes at 4000-5000 drams ($7-8) per kilo.

A woman carrying bags full of shopping items comes up to them and starts to select.

"A new year table cannot be without nuts and dried fruit. I prefer alanis made from peaches, apricots, plums, pears and also dried peaches. In one corner of the table there has to be aghandz (roasted grains of wheat)," she says.

Anahit says during this holiday shopping season they sell 70,000-80,000 drams ($125-140) worth of dried fruit per day. There are people, she says, who spend $300-400. Others hardly manage to buy half a kilo.

"When it comes to prices, we're trying to adjust to everyone, so that they don't feel bad. There's a new year ahead, let everyone have fun," she says.

Holiday shopping for many is a special procedure that needs special attitude. Many Armenian housewives became preparations in early autumn.

A grandmother, Astghik, is from Parpi village in Ashtarak region. She says with a smile, "A real housewife has to prepare New Year sujoukh still in October. See, this is what I've made. Look what a nice color it has."

Sujoukh is sold at 3,000-3,500 drams ($5-6) per kilo. She sometimes tells customers how she has made it and why this year it's more expensive.

Anahit Zakaryan sells $125-140 of dried fruit per day

"First, there weren't many grapes, and sujoukh is made with grape syrup, that's why it's more expensive. A cleaned nut has to be strung then dipped into a syrup from grapes, flour and different spices, which is called shpot. After dipping it has to dry. Sujoukh is one of the decorations for a holiday table."

Armenian traditional New Year tables are like a gift-box of deserts, cakes, dried fruit and nuts and drinks. The main decoration of table is ham baked in a special way or a pork shoulder or a piglet.

Butcher Vardan Vagharshakyan says about eight out of 10 people are buying ham at an average size costing $20. And as the New Year grows closer, meat prices go up.

"The price for meat has already become 100 drams (20 cents) higher. It will go up by 500 more drams (about $1) or maybe even more, I can't say. Today one kilo is already 1500 drams ($2.50). Hurrying is typical of our people, they're afraid there will be nothing left during the last days, but there's always a lot remaining at the end," Vagharshakyan says.

Housewife Hasmik Arakelyan says it takes from $150 to $200 to set a New Year table, "not mentioning other holiday gifts, table decoration items, new clothes. If you add those it turns out a rather large sum, considering the fact that today many people have no jobs."

However, Hasmik doesn't want to load the conversation with problems and says that the beginning of New Year cooking in any family begins with pasuts tolma (saline cabbage leaves stuffed with beans, bulgur, peas, lentil, green peas and various spices). In the morning of December 31 they start preparing two kinds of meat tolma - with cabbage and grape leaves. The latter is served with matsun (sour yogurt) and garlic.

The traditional qyufta is also present at the table. Sixty-six year-old Nina Stepanyan has been selling qyufta for 22 years. She says she beats the meat with a machine. They make it from the meat of young veal, so that it turns out good and the customers are satisfied. The price per one l kilo is 1,500 drams (about $3).

"For the New Year one family buys from 4 to 5 kilos, of course it also depends on their financial capability. Mainly the well provided ones are buying qyufta. Each day I sell 30-40 kilos. The price on qyufta does not increase even during the last days."

Thirty one year-old Lena Minasyan says each year she refreshes her tableware. This year she spent $150 on 12 glasses, about $20 on a table cloth, and some money on plates. The total sum is about $200. She says with her financial ability she can spend about $1000 only on food.

However, the festive mood in apartments only begins when the decorated holiday tree takes it noble place. Hasmik says she paid 18,000 drams for a fir-tree and 10,000 for toys and decoration.

"I do everything without complaining or feeling bad, since you'll spend the new year the way you start it," she says.


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