Midsummer fun: Armenians pour water on each other to bridge pagan and Christian traditions

Sunday "water holiday" will give young and old a chance to cool from heat and have fun, not as harmless, though, as it might sound.
High temperatures and the scorching midsummer sun have somehow cooled the political passions of the past months and Armenians are again seeking oases to wait until the oppressive heat is over. Traditionally, this is the time for summer vacations, hiking and lakeside trips in Armenia. Everything seems to create good preconditions for a spontaneous start of Vardavar, a water-pouring spree with a religious background.

Vardavar is on the third Sunday of July (this year it is July 15) and is in fact a nature-worshipping feast. Its name is a derivative from “vard” in Armenian, which stands for “rose” in English. The water-pouring festival originated in the pagan times when people thus worshipped Astghik, the goddess of love and beauty. After embracing Christianity in 301 AD, Armenians adjusted their festival, along with many others practiced before Christ, to the “new times.”

The festival is included into the Armenian Church’s calendar as the Transfiguration feast. It is a major summer holiday celebrated 14 weeks after Easter.

According to a legend, goddess Astghik spread love through the Armenian land by sprinkling rosy water. Since Vardavar has its roots in pre-Christian times, one of the best places to observe it is near the only left pagan temple in Armenia, in Garni, where one can “worship” the ancient goddess.

On the Vardavar day one can meet children and teenagers menacingly rattling their buckets and looking for somebody to pour water on everywhere in the towns and villages across Armenia. Often the adults also join in the fun. No one is allowed to feel offended or displeased by mischief on this day.

Smart ice cream and soda vendors usually rush to remove the plugs from artificial fresh water fountains in the streets and parks of the city that they had kept tight to hit their sales as nothing seems to be able to stop the militant kids from having a good deal of Vardavar fun. Cautious people prefer staying at home and car drivers choose to make it on foot. Van drivers, who’d rather too stay at home but have to ply their routes, begin to drive more cautiously to save their passengers the trouble of getting soaked to the skin, but sometimes even the most skilful drivers fail, to the disappointment of their passengers. Some people take it easy, others grumble and moan, but no one can do anything about it…

Vardavar is the only day during the year here in Armenia for a legitimate use of water for showering neighbors and strangers. But this “douche” is rather a sign of good will and well-wishing than hostility and insult – the pourers do a kind of favor to those poured by sharing with them a good portion of cool water on a hot summer day. So, do not feel hurt or disappointed if somebody pours a bucketful of cool douche upon your head. But if you happen to be somewhere out on that day, the best thing you can do under the circumstances is to relax and try to get pleasure out of this midsummer man-made rain, and, why not, get a bucket for yourself and join in the fun…