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PAREGENTAN (GOOD LIVING)

Each year, the liturgical calendar lists many occasions for observing Paregentan (good living, or convivium). One such occasion is called Poun (Main or Prime) Paregentan. That name rings for all people with a joyful sound, and yet it is not a religious feast.

Paregentan, by its very nature, is an extension of certain traditions handed down from ancient times. It has been made appropriate and has been transformed to suit the circumstances of Christian living.

The days of any Paregentan, and especially Poun Paregentan, are the signal for the start of long and frequently occurring periods of abstinence. The Paregentan days, then serve for joyous celebration as a counterbalance to the burdensome weeks of abstinence.

In Christian living the people are not to violate the canons and rules of abstinence. Everyone must observe the letter and the spirit of those canons. During those periods, for example, engagement parties and weddings were not, and are not, permitted because of the merriment that goes with them.

On the other hand, however, it was entirely proper, and necessary to satisfy society’s other needs. This was accomplished by the concept of Paregentan, the good-living days, when it was not only permissible, but also encouraged, to prepare lavish table, eat rich foods, hold family festive gatherings, engagement parties, wedding celebrations and recreational and social affairs of creative and distinctive character.

Indeed, the word “Paregentan’ itself explains it fully, by the joining of the words ‘pari’ (good) and ‘gentan’ (living). It is a felicitation, a silent toast for a favor, for health, for long life, for success. It is a heartfelt expression of an attitude toward a loved one that is disclosed in gatherings and around a bountiful table.

paregentan_photo6Good living!

A life of health!

Even though it is a fact that Paregentan is not a religious feast, in the case of the happy days of Poun Paregentan, the theme of a number of hymns sung in the church on that day relate to the blissful life of first man Adam, as though to suggest a foretaste of a similar life. Adam, in paradise, when he was free, and blithesome, exulted in unrestricted joy in God’s presence.

The idea of rediscovering in Paregentan earliest man’s freedoms and enjoyment may be confirmed through other traditions and practices.

For example, the occasion of Paregentan made it possible to subject those in the higher levels in religious and secular circles – bishops and village chiefs – to criticism in a satirical fashion, through theatrical dramatizations of real situations and through appropriate equivocation. Those much lower on the ladder, as though only for the purpose of evoking laughter and providing entertainment, were able through that laughter to attain their true intent of criticizing their superiors, and baring their injustices and wrong ways. Thus, Paregentan was used as an occasion for exercising freedoms.

Clergy could organize the enjoyment of the same kind of freedom through presentation of “apeghatagh” (literally, “burying a cleric”). Especially in monastic life, hierarchical protocol concerning the proper behavior and manner between ranks of clergy would be put aside, and the lower ranks could in appropriate ways make their true feelings and their desires known to their higher-ups.

While in village and city life the self-conceit and vanity of village chiefs and the injustices of tax collectors could be subjected to caustic criticism.

There are ten occasions for observing a Paregentan during the year, and also the one called Poun Paregentan that is connected with the seven­week period of abstinence, Great Lent, the longest, occurring before the feast of the Holy Resurrection (Easter).

paregentan_photo
POUN PAREGENTAN

Paregentan days have been described as having a religious-social character of living. However, Poun Paregentan has surely, judging from its nature, an earlier origin. To some extent it is connected with the ancient Armenian tradition of celebrating the start of the New Year. Concerning that, we would mention once again that the Armenian New Year, though now on January 1, has been taken to occur at different times.

The Navasart New Year occurred in August of the present calendar. The onset-of-spring New Year occurred in March of the present calendar.

paregentan_photo7The onset-of-spring New Year carried in it the concept of the return of warmth, the bursting forth of nature’s life, blossoming, and reawakening. It provided the occasion for the people to greet the “good” and the “living,” and joyfully receive the new life. In the hearts of the people there was the warm feeling for the plentifulness to be expected with that New Year. Along with the positive attitudes the occasion evoked, there were certain ceremonies performed to thwart the evil that was regarded in old pagan times to lurk there, along with the good. It was believed necessary to pulverize and banish evil so that it would not obstruct birth, flowering, and the plenty of crops.

Gatherings for merrymaking and ritual for the purpose mentioned above were virtually of the same nature as is the Poun Paregentan of Christian times. Those gatherings were a distinct part of the traditions and practices of the people, and they were carried on into the twentieth century, in the homeland, at least until the great massacres of the Genocide of the Armenians.

THE NATURE OF THE TRADITION OF POUN PAREGENTAN

Numerous writers and compilers, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have performed an invaluable service in producing a written record describing our numerous traditions, among them being Poun Paregentan.
Although it is clear that the Poun Paregentan had great popularity throughout all of Armenia, nevertheless, its observation took on varying forms in different regions, in each case having been adapted to conform to the social circumstances locally.

The tradition of a Paregentan exists also with other peoples. Its name is usually the word “carnival” (or its equivalent), and it has come down as a practice from ancient times, continuing into the Christian times of the present. Family gatherings, festivals, dance, song, exhibition of visual arts, contests of mental agility, wrestling matches, and on, and on, are part of the observance everywhere. In different countries, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in America , Paregentan, or Carnival, has taken on a broader scope, and has gradually adopted new practices that have become traditional.

In order to help the reader to gain a deeper understanding of Paregentan or of Poun Paregentan, and to learn how the Armenians have observed them in past, we offer interesting examples on this subject as set forth by various writers.

COMMENTARY AND TESTIMONY PAREGENTAN

paregentan_photo4Paregentan is known as a feast day for eating and drinking, ecstatic song and dance, games and ceremony, and enjoyment of personal freedom. Paregentan preceded the great abstinence and lasted for two weeks; the last week was called Poun Paregentan.

Merriment and games were characteristic of Paregentan. Many wealthy families entertained prominent people and neighbors in their homes. Sheep and cattle were slaughtered, drink and fruits were brought out of storage, and musicians or minstrels or story-tellers were invited to enliven the festivities. Sometimes a string of parties was arranged with revelers going an from house to house. The merrymaking was interrupted only during working hours, or when it was time for competitive sports. During the last days of Paregentan, in the homes of the wealthy, the table was virtually never cleared. Youth, including married ones, converted large barns into halls for dancing, and during those festive days they danced ecstatically. According to certain testimony the youth took full advantage of the same kind of rights granted by the “apeghatagh” precedent, ignoring the admonition of their elders, even at times of violating rules of behavior.

Paregentan was a time also for bethrothals, engagement parties, and wedding festivities, which, during those festive days, were mystically tied in with fertility rituals.

On Thursday of the festive period, the women of Marash having put a bride’s dress and ornaments on a wooden spade, carried it from house to house, and performed certain amusing rituals. Then they stood the spade in the ground, in the courtyard and danced around it and amused themselves.

Young boys, dressed as camels, donkeys or goats sometimes forming caravans led by musicians, went from house to house, and parish to parish, performing tricks and engaging in acrobats. Games that were played inside buildings were “dama” (Middle Eastern checkers), the ring game, backgammon, cards and sometimes chess usually engaged in by the older people. Girls and young brides, besides their own games, sometimes rode swings together with the boys. Monks in the monasteries had their own ritual games of abeghatagh during the festive days of Paregentan.

V.H Broyan “Hav Azkakroutiun” (Armenian Ethnography).
Yerevan, 1974 (pp 190-192)

The name of this feast arises from the lifestyle prevailing during those two weeks; it means “good living.” In pagan times Paregentan must have had a different name because it was connected with the god of the reawakening of nature. The Christian church changed its name.The same may be seen in modern names of that feast observed in the Inda-European cultures.

PAREGENTAN

The first week, and more so the second week of Paregentan, were days of merriment, recreation, and eating and drinking. Men would gather in barns and devise games, pose riddles, show off industrial tools, engage in wrestling and other physical sports. Separately, the women and girls had their own games and merriment. There were too many kinds to be described here. They included games of satire and humorous theatrical plays. Such games in the evening took place in the “odas” (family rooms), while during the day, if there were a wedding, they would go to halls for dancing, but in the evening as well. Sometimes they went on house-to-house visits to gather gifts. Accompanied by davoul and zurna (drum and oboe) the young men played “Yarkhousha” while the girls engaged in chatter.

The days of Paregentan were the last marriage days for girls; when the Monday of Lent had come, there was no hope left. It would have to wait till the following year…

Aremnouhi Der Garabetian-Gevonian “Jewels, from Kegham of Moush” (Paris, 1945, p 202-203)

Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993