Vardavar-Armenian Water Festival

Vardavar is born from the word “vard” which means rose in Armenian. All night long the day of Vardavar, young girls of town go out to the field to collect roses. The petals are then soaked in water overnight in water collected from seven mines only to be used to drench the young men of town the next morning. The buckets are then used by the young men to hide talismans in and the lucky girl who selects the talisman is destined to marry the original owner. Currently, a Christian Tradition, it is celebrated on the last day of the year according to the old Armenian calendar. The roots date far back into the Armenian pagan times and are associated with multiple songs written on this beautiful celebration of love, fertility and purity.

In modern times, anyone walking the streets of Armenia cannot expect to remain dry. While being accepted as a fun festival, people also see the togetherness component of the celebration as the day is filled with laughter by people of all ages.”

Informant: “To me, the idea of the tradition is to eliminate anger and promote love. I have enjoyed it throughout my childhood and now, because it has brought me close with people and produced unlimited amount of joy.”

The informant was born and raised in Armenia and moved to the United States when she was about fifteen years old. She told me that not only was it a complete culture shock for her, but the city where she was living lacked the sense of community that was present in neighborhoods of Armenia. In the summertime, all people, old and young, bathe each other in water. She claimed “it is the most interesting and fun time during the summer for everyone of Armenian culture and brings strangers together for fun, and it is creative way to get back at the person you hate and bond with the people you don’t know.”

The tradition traces back to the goddess of love, Astghik, who was showered with rose petals and water. To resemble this treat, fourteen weeks after Easter, the people would do the same on a hot summer day. All rules of social etiquette are thrown out the window and random strangers are given permission by some arbitrary force to water one another in the streets. The tradition has been accepted and celebrated among Armenians since pagan times; thus, the exact date of the tradition is not known. All Armenians are exposed to it at a very young age, and there is not a single year that it is not being celebrated.

Naturally, the tale is recited in Armenian; however, the informant did not provide it in the original language in which it is recited. She was able to provide a translated version.

The Vardavar-Armenian Water festival uses a folk tale to establish a custom that has been ritualized by the Armenian community for a number of years. Because the Armenian population is spread out across the European map, this kind of festival can appear to unify the culture since the ritual is widespread. Alternatively, it can be seen as a tribute to the people of Armenia helping establish  the country and its people nationally and socially among different ethnic groups and cultures.

From another perspective, the festival can take form as a superstition. I heard from an additional source that the essence of the rituals is to embrace water that is considered to have some kind of curative and powerful effect. That is, it can be used to foretell the future, drive away the evil, and make women more fertile and ill people healthy again.