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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Bari-Kentan, an Armenian Tradition

Time goes by so fast and I find myself falling behind in completing all my planned posts on my blog.  February is almost over, and I had planned to post two more stories before the end of the month. 

Last weekend I came down with a stomach flu. Since then, I've been under the weather and unable to write. Blogging has kept me very busy. Sometimes I think why do I bother so much to write but then the encouragement of my peers gives me fuel to keep the engine running. Now I know what a tough job reporters, journalists or authors have.  

According to Catholicism "Mardi Gras," which is the French way of saying Fat Tuesday, is the last day of eating fatty animal foods before the ritual of fasting for Lent begins.  In Armenian tradition, this day is actually the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.  We call it "Bari Kentan," meaning Good Life.  

According to Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of practitioners as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes that are used at the Wednesday mass are gathered after the palm from the previous year's of Palm Sunday are burned.  

But since I'm not a Catholic, I'd like to use my mother's theory of why they say Ash Wednesday.  She says in old days, ash was used to clean pots and pans. So, the day after Fat Tuesday, on Wednesday, people cleaned every residue of animal food from their utensils, by using ashes.  And that's how the day came to be called Ash Wednesday. You may choose your own version, depending on how you look at things.

In Armenian culture, "bari-kentan" the last day before Lent, the same as in Western culture, has been marked with festivities, good food and even a masquerade. 

There is also another tradition in our culture that has passed down from our elders to us. And when we were young in Iran we have enjoyed it a lot.  It is to tie the feet of an elder male (a grandpa) and hit them with tree branches and ask them for money. It was a fun tradition but since we moved to these foreign shores, America, we have not kept the tradition of celebrating "Bari-Kentan." And I guess my kids don't know about the tradition. 

One of our famous writers Hovaness Toumanian who lived in late 1800s has a little story called "Bari-Kentan." The story goes: One day a husband brings home sacks of food (rice and beans) and tells his young wife that the food is for Bari-Kentan. The wife not knowing what Bari-Kentan means, (I guess not in every village celebrated the feast) thinks that it is someone's name.  So, she waits for couple of weeks and Bari-Kentan doesn't show up to pick up his food.  

One day when she was at the door, notices a man coming towards their home, he assumes that, he must be the guy who has to pick up the food.  She asks the stranger, if he's Bari-Kentan who is supposed to pick up the food. 

The man, realizing that the woman is in fault, says that indeed he is Bari-Kentan who has come to pick up the food. So the woman hands sacks of food to this stranger and he goes away.  In the evening when the husband comes home, happily, she tells him that Bari-Kentan came for his food and that she gave him all the food and he took it away. You may very well imagine what the reaction of the husband could be. This is one of the favorite stories that my grandmother used to tell us and I wanted to hear it over and over again.

Pope Benedict receiving Penitential Ahes

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating. I love to hear how common holidays carry special celebrations and stories in other cultures. I can really buy into the explanation of ashes. Thanks.