On Sunday July 19, the pilgrim, lost in Armenia, opened his windows to a very strange view. As soon as the morning mass is over, everyone begins to water their neighbors in the street, with large sprays of water, indiscriminately targeting the child who is already soaked or the executive in a suit and tie. What is this very strange custom?
This is the celebration of Vardavar, a party that is dating from pagan times. It was a way of honoring the goddess Astghik, goddess of water, beauty, love and fertility. Back in the days, it was celebrated by throwing roses, which gave the party its name (Vart meaning "rose" and var meaning "lift, throw"). The fields and neighboring inhabitants were then watered, and the first ears of the wheat harvest were offered to the goddess.
Since the conversion of Armenia in 301 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, this pagan festival has taken on new meanings. Initially, Armenian peoples was commemorating the end of the Flood with this water festival. According to tradition, Noah's Ark landed on Mount Ararat, which rises to 5137 meters. Even though the Mount is now located in Turkey, its eternal snows hang over Armenia and rally all Armenians around the world.
Then the Armenian Church made Vardavar coincide with the feast of the Transfiguration. This event where Christ reveals himself in His glory to His disciples is commemorated 98 days after Easter. The faithful therefore celebrate the renewal and the victory of Christ over darkness. It is one of the three most important festivals in the Armenian liturgical calendar.
This feast gives children the opportunity to joke adults and be kindly irreverent, spraying careless passers-by from balconies or spraying teachers and adults alike. Even the firefighters and priests participate in this overflow of joy! During hot summer days, it's a nice way to cool off.
All over the world, members of the Armenian diaspora are replicating this tradition, using streets near churches and baking pastries for passers-by in advance. It is the soul of Armenia which expresses itself, joyful and free, the soul of a people proud of its history and happy to meet again.