wet welcome awaits on the streets.
They wait like little bandits, these children
armed with buckets and bottles of water on this
single day of cultural dispensation, when they
are more or less expected to douse unsuspecting
One day a year, behavior that might ordinarily
evoke strong discipline is tolerated - if not
encouraged - among the youth of Armenia, upholding
a tradition that pre-dates the republic's fame
as the first Christian nation.
Welcome to Vartavar. The word itself has many
definitions, and so does the holiday. But one
element is common: water. And the holiday, mercifully
falling at the hottest time of the year, means
Every year it is celebrated on a Sunday. And
this coming Sunday is the annual event. And if
you happen to be in Armenia on that day, either
plan to stay inside or plan to get soaked.
"It is a celebration of beauty and youth,"
says 52-year old Anyuta Hovsepyan. "It is
the day when young lovers throw water on each
other. In the villages, the celebration is even
more interesting since the roots of this tradition
Ah, the roots. They do go deep.
Pagans initiated Vartavar, a dedication to the
goddesses Astghik and Anahit and a means of symbolizing
purity and fertility.
Satenik Poghossian, 18, has been told that the
tradition comes from a fable according to which
the goddess Astghik was bathing and her clothing
was stolen and she was forced to cover herself
with rose petals. From this event comes the name
According to another Armenian tradition, it was
forbidden to eat apples until the day of Vartavar.
Therefore, on the day of the celebration, apples
were given as gifts to one another.
When Armenia adopted Christianity in 301, it
modified the meaning to include symbols ranging
from the Great Flood to the transfiguration of
Some say the pouring of water from little children
is a baptism of sorts. Others say they are little
devils for doing it.
In general, it is a day of spirited fun, when
the squeals of children mix with the cries of
their victims for a good-hearted release from
summer's heat, regardless of whether participants
know the tradition's foundation.
And while it is largely a youth day, many adults
also join the water wars.
"I am certainly going to participate because
of my grandchildren. I know it is a religious
celebration and I want to participate each year
as a way of preserving this tradition," says
71-year old Aramayis Ghazarian.
In contrast to other celebrations linked to religious
events, Vartavar does not have a fixed date, but
changes according to the Church calendar.
Vartavar spreads across the country in a wave
Albert Hovanessian, 36, of Byurakan says his
village waits impatiently for Vartavar.
"Since the celebration is a day of happiness
and love, I definitely participate in the festivities
believing that, getting wet on that day symbolizes
prosperity for the coming year."
The tradition is especially popular in the regions
of Lori and Tavoush.
"The children block the streets leading
to the village and wet those who refuse to give
them money," says 47-year old Albert Arakelyan,
of Davoush. "Many families gather in the
fields, they feast on a lamb they sacrifice and
they dance and sing during the day."
In contrast to Tavoush, in Echmiadzin people
do not get the chance to gather in the fields
to feast, because the children are always waiting
to wet them. Even when visitors come out of buses,
children mercilessly throw water on them in surprise.
And even staying at home sometimes may not be
the perfect solution.
comes by the bucket at Vartavar.
"Last year I stayed at home in order to
avoid getting wet," says Gayane Mkrtchyan,
of Etchmiadzin. "They knocked on my door
and when I opened it, I was soaked by my neighbors.
For a moment I got mad, but seeing my neighbors'
excitement made me forget my anger and join along
with the festivities."
Not everyone, however, enjoys and participates
in this accepted and exciting tradition. During
the day of Vartavar, one may encounter many wet
and unhappy people, specifically drivers.
Robert Martirossyan, 21, says the water fun should
have its limits.
"It is a nice tradition and it can be fun
if people do not take advantage," he says.
"I have seen some people throwing water into
cars, leading to traffic accidents and fights."
In any case, Vartavar has no rules and regulations.
First floor residents carry umbrellas when on
their balconies, for fear of getting wet by the
Each year, when people are about to be soaked
from head to toe, they don't have time to think
about the origins. Their main goal is to either
enjoy this hot summer ritual or at least be grateful
that it only comes once a year.
And in the capital, this Vartavar might prove
an especially memorable time.
Every street in the city center is under construction,
leaving sidewalks as little more than dirt paths.
With the anticipated flood of Vartavar water,
it is likely to be a muddy Sunday. Who knows what
new tradition could spring from such possibilities?