25. Easter in Kazakhstan during 1517-1648CE
APR. 08, 2021
Chocolate, Eggs and fermented horse milk! It's Spring festival time and Ryan is happy to tell Pete everything there is to know about Easter in Kazakhstan during the Protestant Reformation. "Nawrız meyramı quttı bolsın! Aq mol bolsın!"
Kazakhstan, officially the ‘Republic of Kazakhstan’ is a nation south of Russia in Central Asia, and is considered the land bridge between Europe and East-Asia.
This is shown by the countries it neighbours, with Russia in the north, China in the east and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the south.
Divided into 14 regions, Astana is the capital city, Almata is the largest city and it has just 18.8 million residents.
• You can drive from Calais to East Kazahkstan on one road - the E50 (5300 mi)
• Due to all the nuclear testing undertaken by the Soviet Union, the area of Semipalatinsk is now an area considered more contaminated than Chernobyl
• 100 of the elements on the periodic table can be found in Kazakhstan, which is a lot, we promise
Kazakhstan has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era and became a key part of the Steppe Route, the ancestor of the Silk Roads. Helpfully it was an area where ponies were first domesticated, which was good news for the nomadic groups who lived there.
And fought there. For over 1000 years, the country was inhabited by a mix of tribes invading and settling, including Arabs who introduce Islam to the region.
In 1219 - Genghis Khan invades with his Golden Horde (the western branch of the Mongol Empire) and Kazakhstan fell under the control of a succession of the Mongol rulers for the next two hundred years.
In the 15th century the ruling structure split into several large groups known as the Khanates. The Kazakh Khanate was created in 1465 in the southeast by Janybek and Kerey Khan and by the late-15th century, the Khazak empire rules the entire region, feared by all. This may have had something to do with their ability to bring 200,000 horsemen into the battlefield. Good for the roses though.
By the 16th century, the Khazak Khanate ruled large portions of Central Asia, with Kasym Khan (1511-1523) at the head.
Under his rule the Kazakh Khanate reached its greatest strength, especially after 1520, when they defeated their number one enemy, the Nogai Horde. Duly impressed, the Tsardom of Russia became the first major state to establish diplomatic relations with the Kazakh Khanate and the empire became known as an up-and-coming political entity within Western Europe.
At this time Kasym Khan introducedthe first Kazakh code of laws (1520), called the Bright Road of Kasym Khan. By the end of this period, the Kazakhs had almost entirely converted to Islam (albeit an informal, and free-and-easy adherence).
On his death, Kasym’s several sons go on to expand control of the Kazakh Khanate further but the khanate disintegrates into three distinct “hordes”. After a brief effort to reunite the hordes proves ultimately unsuccessful, by the 17th century, the empire was fragmented again and by 1731, Kazakhs had to ask Russia for protection from rival tribes.
The Russians volunteer to help, advance into the Kazakh steppe and, surprise surprise, by the mid-19th century, they rule Kazakhstan as part of the Russian Empire.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the territory was reorganised several times and in 1936, it was made part of the Soviet Union as the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. This republic was also the last to declare independence from the Soviet Union, but they made it, eventually in 1991.
The Easter story is at the heart of Christianity and it remembers the story of Jesus Christ’s execution by crucifix and subsequent remarkable recovery through being resurrected by God.
Unlike the Christmas story of his virgin birth, Easter commemorates the belief that Jesus sacrificed himself and endured great suffering to redeem humanity from sin. This is why many churches in Eastern Europe consider Easter to be more important than Christmas.
Eastern Orthodox (Orthodox churches, the Oriental churches, and the Eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church) tend to celebrate Easter at slightly different times due to conflicting methods of calculation, up to one, four or five weeks later.
This comes from the shift from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian in the 16th Century.
In essence, this was a shift where corrections to the calendar meant, in 1582, Pope Gregory 8th, decreed that the 4 October was to be followed the next day by the 15 October.
However, the Orthodox Churches remained faithful to the Julian calendar and so the dates differ, even though since then all countries have adopted the same calendar.
When it comes to Easter in Kazakhstan though, the problem is that there are very few Catholics in Kazakhstan. In fact 72% of the Kazakh population are Muslim, versus 25% which are Russian Orthodox (traditionally ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians).
Although Muslims believe that the holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them, and that part of being a good Muslim is in protecting the rights of everyone, no matter their religious beliefs, they don’t celebrate Easter themselves.
Nevertheless, during Holy Week, Orthodox Christians make enormous quantities of traditional Russian Easter foods and they bring the food to Church on Great Saturday.
During the midnight Easter service, after the Paschal Vigil (the first official celebration of Jesus’ resurrection) all of the food is blessed by the priest sprinkling holy water. Then, at 4 A.M. on the Sunday, after the hour in which it is said Christ rose from the dead, quarters of hard‐boiled eggs are then handed out to everyone, vodka and champagne are poured and everybody begins to eat everything.
All this is finished off with the twin desserts of Paskha and Kulich
Paskha is the name for a Russian Cheesecake shaped in a four-sided pyramid from sweet creamy cheese, and decorated with multi-colored glacé fruits. The pyramid shape represents the Church, Calvary (the hill Jesus died on) and the tomb Jesus was buried in, which is pretty good going for a dessert.
The Paska is white, symbolizing the purity of Christ and the joy of the Resurrection.
It’s made using a pasoch-nitsa – a collapsible wooden or plastic mould made of four tablets and on the inner side of the boards is cut out the letters “XB” which stand for Христос воскрес (“Christos los Creeas”) which means ‘Christ is Risen’. Sometimes other symbols appear too, showing the suffering and resurrection of Christ. So it’s a dessert packed with both flavour and meaning.
Kulich is an Orthodox Easter bread shaped like a cylinder with a rounded end. This is decorated with white icing on top (+ drizzled down the sides) with colourful flowers.
The bread’s bulging top is said to represent a church dome with snow on it, although others say it originates before this and the original bread, from Kievan Rus, represented the spring and fertility.
The cakes are baked in tall, cylindrical tins (like coffee or fruit juice tins) and are a semi-sweet bread-like cake, similar to Italian panettone. These are only eaten during the easter week and are frequently served with a generous spread of sweet, creamy Paskha.
A well-known symbol of easter is the rabbit. This originates from the ancient pagan festival of Eostre, where the goddess of fertility and spring was honoured. Her animal symbol was a rabbit or a hare, which traditionally symbolised fertility due to their high reproduction rates.
Later, the idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary and the hare was a popular motif in medieval church art - occurring in illustrated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Child.
In Germany in the 1700s, inspired by Santa Claus, there comes the emergence of "Osterhase" or "Oschter Haws" who was a hare who would lay colourful eggs as gifts for children who were good.
But there’s only one species of hare native to Kazakhstan – the Tolai hare (Lepus tolai). About 2 feet long with tall ears and a light sandy, brown or grey coat, it lives in semi-desert, rocky habitats; plains with a small number of trees and shrubs that can serve them as shelters.
The Tolai hare is a solitary creature living alone in a small territory of approx. 2 hectares, which it can cover in short order as it can up to 50mph.
The animal is hunted for its meat and fur, for food, medicine and clothing, but not, as far as we know, for its eggs.
But if you want eggs in Kazakhstan, you could check out…
The Mysterious Stone Eggs of Mangyshlak
The Mangystau region in western Kazakhstan is mostly desert, mountains and mountain ridges. All across the area, scattered by the thousands, as if dropped from the sky, are enormous, almost perfect, spherical stones - some the size of beach balls, others bigger than cars.
These ancient ‘eggs’ are estimated to be approx. 120-180 million years old and the origin of these stone spheres is still not clear.
According to folklore, the spheres represent the bodies of attacking invaders frozen into place by a powerful holy man. According to scientists, the stones developed when the area was once a sea-bed – with minerals cementing themselves around a nucleus of pebbles or fossils — like an oyster coating a particle of grit to form a pearl.
It’s not certain though. One geologist thinks they are the result of electricity in the Earth’s crust. Wherein, underground lightning strikes sparked by volcanism and plate shifts create “plasma fireballs” that then accrete minerals, with the stones rolling between layers of rock like millstones grinding rock into flour.
You can believe whichever one you like. We’re going with ‘magically frozen warriors’.
Despite the shortage of people celebrating Easter, there’s still plenty of fun to be had at this time of year in Kazak
Nauryz is a festival celebrated by hundreds of millions of people every year, many of which are in Kazakhstan. It’s a holiday festival marking the arrival of spring and the start of a new year, an ancient holiday dating back over 5000 years with origins in Zoroastrianism.
In Kazakhstan, the whole month of March is known as Nauryz, but is celebrated mostly over several days from March 21st when the official public holiday begins. Celebrations take place on main squares, parks and streets across all regions and cities and the customs focus on the idea of renewal, rebirth and a chance to start again.
People celebrate with family, neighbours, friends and strangers. There is house cleaning, settling debts and forgiving past offences by others. Wrestling matches (kazaksha-gures) and poetry competitions take place, as well as horse games called kyz-kuu and bayga.
Open-air theatrical performances take place and girls and boys play on large log swings called altybakan, which were important in the past as the only place where girls and boys could talk to each other.
And then there’s the food. The main dish is Nauryz kozhe, offered to all guests in any city or village of Kazakhstan. This unique recipe is cooked with just seven ingredients, butter, salt, barley, rice, noodles, kefir and horse meat.
Each component symbolizes one of life’s seven prosperous elements, growth, luck, happiness, wealth, health, wisdom and heavenly protection.
Now with all that delicious food, you’re going to want a drink. Kumis is a fermented dairy product traditionally made from mare's milk, known in Mongolia as Airag.
Mare's milk is a very limited commodity, so it’s a special drink for celebrations. This is not least because it takes considerable skill and some courage to milk a mare. This is partly because the process is started by a foal that starts the milk flow and is pulled away by another person. That foal is then left touching the mare's side during the entire process.
Traditional Kumis is created by adding raw unpasteurized mare's milk into a large horse-hide saddle bag which contains some of the previous fermented kumis. Over the course of hours or days, the whole family takes turns stirring / churning the milk up to 5000 times, or for the travelling milk-churner, it was strapped to a saddle and joggled around over the course of a day's riding.
During this fermentation, lactobacilli bacteria acidify the milk, and yeasts from the previous batch turn it into a carbonated and alcoholic drink (0.7 to 2.5%). Yum.