The popcorn, gata, halva and aghandz are on the table and dessert is prepared while 17-year-old Michael lights the bonfire. The other 30 kids of the FAR Children’s Center then form a circle, join hands, and walk seven times around it as they sing traditional songs. When the flames wane, they each take a turn jumping over the fire.
This is Tiarn’ndaraj, or Trndez, a festival rooted in the pagan celebration of the anticipation of spring but now considered significant in Christian Armenia. Tiarn’ndaraj, which translates as “to come to meet the Lord” or “Candlemas” as it is known in the west, is one of the most joyful feasts of the year at the FAR Children’s Center. Celebrated annually on February 13th with the bonfire circle followed by a feast of local specialties, it symbolizes the presentation of the 40-day-old Christ Child. The celebration starts the night before with Nakhatonak, or evening services, during which the priest lights a candle from the holy altar and distributes the flame. People later take their candles home as a symbol of the holy light. Often newlyweds jump over the fire together the following day as a form of blessing, but the tradition has come to symbolize light, joy and protection against evil for all who participate.
“It’s the second year I have celebrated Trndez at the Center,” said 14-year-old Jerair Janerian. “In Syria we used to celebrate it at school. We lit a fire, but we couldn’t actually jump over it. It was too high and strong.”
“According to Jewish law when a baby boy is 40 days old, his mother takes him to the temple to receive God’s benevolence and blessing. The Holy Virgin Mary did this when she took the 40-day-old Christ child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to be consecrated,” explained Zemfira Smoyan, one of the Center’s mentors.
Executive Director of the FAR Children’s Center Mira Antonyan said that the most important reason they celebrate is to help the children get more in touch with their culture. The FAR Children’s Center is a safe haven for children who have been victims of abuse and neglect and many of them thrive in group activities. “The children here accelerate when they connect; doing things together and sharing cultural values is of the utmost importance for them. It also helps to serve a therapeutic role of helping children to recover. These are indirect methods which create an environment that helps children show more solidarity toward one another, love for each other, and as a way to encourage them to build relationships and evaluate what they have,” she said.
At the end of the day children at the Center prayed the “Hayr Mer” (Our Lord), wished peace and happiness to each other, and then enjoyed the delicious dishes they had prepared together for the celebration.