Doing 6-7 days worth of the 12 Days of Imported Christmas every year (this year we could actually get all 12, you never know) has changed our YouTube viewing habits. Gordon regularly types in “Christmas in [country]” just to see if there is anything we need to try. When he pulled up Christmas in Georgia, the first video was of a wizened old man using a draw knife to make long curled ribbons out of a willow branch. We knew immediately that we would be making Chichilaki.
On the First Day of Imported Christmas, Gordon made a Chichilaki out of a branch pruned from my parents’ apple tree and I made a tiny tree skirt to go with it.
The Chichilaki is a centuries-old tradition in Georgia, especially in the western part of the country near the black sea. Chichilaki masters take dried branches of hazelnut or walnut trees, soak them in water, remove the bark, and use a draw knife to cut long curling ribbons of wood, leaving them attached at the end of the draw. Finished Chichilaki are decorated with sweets, churchkhela, and ribbon.
We’ve seen Chichilaki referred to as symbolizing the tree of life, hope for the future, and, in some cases, as resembling the giant beard of St. Basil. While some in Georgia have also adopted the Western version of a Christmas tree, Chichilaki is still widely popular. It has the added benefit of being more economical and environmentally friendly as it is made from pruned branches of a living tree. Chichilaki trees are ceremonially burned the day before epiphany to symbolize letting go of the past year’s troubles and looking forward to the year ahead.
We didn’t have any willow or hazelnut branches, so we used apple. The curl pattern was different, but we really liked the results. I made a quick tree skirt for our tiny tree and now it has a place of honor on our international Christmas table.
Interested in learning about more international Christmas traditions? Follow our 12 Days of Imported Christmas:
Twelve Days of Imported Christmas
- The First Day: Chichilaki—Georgia’s Shaved Christmas Tree
- The Second Day: Lotería de Navidad—Spain’s Communal Christmas Lottery
- The Third Day: Stargazy Pie—Cornwall’s Town-Saving Fish Dish
- The Fourth Day: Rellenong Manok—The Phillipines’ Elaborately Stuffed Christmas Chicken
- The Fifth Day: Himmeli—Finland’s Geometric Straw Ornaments
- The Sixth Day: Figgy Pudding—England’s Fiery Festive Centerpiece
- The Seventh Day: Glückspilz—Germany’s Lucky Mushroom
- The Eighth Day: Pumpple Cake—Philadelphia’s Quadruple Dessert
- The Ninth Day: Porchetta—Italy’s Decadent Pork Centerpiece
- The Tenth Day: Julkalender—Sweden’s Serialized TV Christmas Countdown
- The Eleventh Day: Peppermint Pig—Saratoga’s Shattered Sow
- The Twelfth Day: Ursul—Romania’s Bear Dance Festival