Vardavar: Fire hose Face Off

by Armine Hakopyan on July 28, 2019

It's summertime, do you know what that means? Vardavar is around the corner. I want to share a little about the origins of Vardavar and my experience of Vardavar in Yerevan. 

The origins of Vardavar are rooted in ancient Armenia before the adoption of Christianity. During the pagan times, Armenians worshiped many gods and goddesses, much like the Romans and Greeks. One of the deities revered and celebrated by ancient Armenians was Astghik. She was the creator of heaven and earth but was replaced by the god Aramazd in that role. She became the goddess of water, beauty, love, and fertility. 

Astghik was celebrated all over Armenia during harvest season with the sprinkling of water and placement of roses at her temple. The name Vardavar is derived from this ancient tradition. Vard means "rose" and var means "to rise" in Armenian. The tradition of splashing water onto each other is a gesture to wish good health and good luck, in honor of Astghik.

Today, like many pagan traditions, Vardavar has been incorporated into Christian celebrations. It is known as the transfiguration of Jesus Christ and is celebrated by the Armenian Apostolic Church. The date of Vardavar is 14 weeks after Easter (in 2019 it is July 28). Armenians all over the world celebrate by going to church, splashing water onto one another and in Southern California going to the beach and dunking our entire bodies into the ocean.

So, how did this Californian find herself in a faceoff with a firehose? I have visited Armenia many times, one particular visit was extra special because I was going to be in Armenia during Vardavar. I had heard stories of men, women, children of all ages being drenched with water on buses, on the streets, in parks and cafes. I almost didn't believe it and was excited to see if it was all true.

I walked out of the building, giddy with excitement, took five steps down the street and WHAM! a group of kids tossed a bucket of water my way wetting part of my skirt, but I was not impressed. I continued walking down towards the center of Yerevan, to have lunch. During that 15 minute walk, I waited with anticipation. All around me I could hear the shrieks and laughter from the crowds as, without prejudice, water kept pouring onto them.

As I sat at a cafe, finishing lunch, I was a little disappointed that I was already dry, then suddenly from my left side, I was smashed with a bucket of water. 

I was filled with so much joy as I participated in this ancient tradition in my homeland. I turned the corner towards my building, and my grin fell. Right in front of the entrance to the building, there were several kids with buckets and in the center, a man holding a fire hose. He was firing down the sidewalk, down the middle of the street at the cars and towards me. That's how I came to a faceoff with a powerful fire hose. There was no other way to get to the building except towards and through the firehose. Needless to say, I had never been wetter as I was by the time I made it to the end of the street. I was fully and completely soaked in history, tradition, and merriment and I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate Vardavar.

Will you be celebrating Vardavar? Whether you drizzle a few fingertips of water onto a loved one, toss your sibling into the pool, have a water balloon fight in the church courtyard and make your way to the beach, remember Astghik and wish your "victims" good health and good luck.