Articles by Celia

Kazakh Dancing, Kara Jorga Style!

Қара Жорға (Qara Jorga) is a popular dance song in Kazakhstan. My first connection with it is when my infant host brother was trained to perform it for houseguests. Snapping his little fingers and moving around, he’d dance around on his little toes and everyone would clap and give him candy. At the time (three years ago) I understood that the repeating “bolmasa” means “if there’s not,” but didn’t get the poetic language at all. Here’s a modern version of the song:


March 27, 2013 5 comments

What is the biggest Kazakh sport?

When people ask about Kazakh sports, the first thing that comes to mind is kokpar. Often described as Central Asian polo, kokpar is a competitive sport on horseback for nomads (Kyrgyz kokboru and Tajik buzkashi are similar: see a great buzkashi film trailer here!).

I haven’t yet seen the game in person, but the piece below is a great representation by a local TV channel:


March 8, 2013 1 comment

Zhana Zhilinmen! Celebrating the New (Calendar) Year in Kazakhstan

It’s December 31. As I stamp my feet and shake snow off in the entrance to old Maral-apai’s flat, I’m greeted by her kelin (daughter in law) and then her husband, whose face lights up as he swings his baby grandson in the air. The guests sit and watch TV until we hear the call: “Dinner is ready!”

… and then everyone begins to put their coats on.

Yes, dinner is across town! We drive to Karima’s house, a relative who has prepared an elaborate spread, starting with New Year’s traditional olivye salad, and moving on to fish salad, raw fish slices, and caviar tarts, a burst of sticky salty orange balls in a creamy shell. There is fish soup, then baked fish sliced vertically, large bones still cross-cutting the middle.

New Year is a family holiday, and so I’m honored to be invited in as the family toasts each other, wishing happiness, health, and long life. Karima’s husband leans over and warns me, though, that there are more dinners to come. “This is why Kazakhs are “tolyk (full)” he laughs, hands shaping bulges around his stomach and hips. His wife laughs too, then smacks him on the shoulder.

But he’s correct about the feasting. We stop by a third relative’s house for tea and salads, then return to the first house. A table that was empty two hours ago is now full of salads, fresh chicken wings, and a large platter of manty dumplings filled with oil and lamb. Again the family eats, and again the grandfather closes the meal with a brief Muslim blessing, as everyone crosses their hands over their faces, “Au-meen.” This may be a Russian holiday, but it’s been comfortably adapted by Muslim families across Central Asia.

Just before midnight, Nurali’s parents disappear. The doorbell rings, and Father Christmas arrives with his snow-princess assistant. “Ho, ho, ho!” Ded Moroz cries out, and asks, “Who have we here?”

Nurali watches as Ded Moroz and Snegurichka spread new year's cheer. Photo by author

Nurali watches as Ded Moroz and Snegurichka spread new year's cheer. Photo by author

Little Nurali’s face lights up; he receives a giraffe on wound-up springs, which hops across the table and chants “again, again!” while Father Christmas gives out glasses for the grandmother, a new cell phone for the grandfather, and a compass for a younger cousin.

After Father Christmas leaves, the young parents reappaer, and ask their son, “How have you been? Did Father Christmas come?”

Nurali nods, eyes wide.

And once again everyone toasts to the New Year, as the guests begin to leave long after midnight.


Note. Kazakhs celebrate the New Year twice: first in January with the arrival of a new calendar, and again in March with an older celebration, the arrival of spring during “Nauruz.” Since it’s January, I’ve described how one family welcomed in the new calendar year. Note also that Ded Moroz, a bringer of gifts and cheer like Santa Claus, has a Russian name that means ‘old man frost’; I’ve translated it as Father Christmas to convey a merry atmosphere to English-speaking readers!  


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January 16, 2013 3 comments

What to Name Your Kazakh Baby

In a recent group post we wrote about traditions for naming children in different countries. In today’s post, our new Kazakhstan contributor Celia talks about naming children in Kazakhstan.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about the meanings of names, and living in Kazakhstan is no disappointment. Traditionally, Kazakh parents invited relatives to a besik toi party for a new baby. After gathering around the cradle, an honored guest or relative would be invited to name the child. Without consulting with the parents, the person would decide on a name, and whisper into the infant’s ears three times: your name is… your name is… your name is… and then the child was officially named.


November 7, 2012 7 comments