ARMENIAN LANGUAGE CORNER
Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
Two Other Ways to Say “New Year” in Armenian
As anyone knows, “new year” is nor dari (նոր տարի) in Armenian, and of course, New Year = Nor Dari (Նոր Տարի). But, unlike English, the Armenian language has a second, much older and “fancy” way to name the first day of the forthcoming year as Amanor (Ամանոր).
Someone may suppose that this word is related to aman (աման) “vessel” and nor (նոր) “new,” and that it designated a custom of replacing the old china on New Year. Besides the fact that such a pricey custom did not exist among Armenians, this would go against language rules. In that case, the word would be amananor or amannor, which has never existed.
They would be partly right, however: the second part of Amanor is nor “new.”
What about the first? This is the Classical Armenian (Krapar) word am (ամ “year”), derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *sama. The word am does not exist alone in Modern Armenian, but it appears in compound words. Besides Amanor, how do you say, for instance, “decade” in Armenian? Dasn-am-eag (տասն–ամ–եակ). What about “biennial” or “that happens every two years”? Yerg-am-ea (երկամեայ).
In the same way that Latin annus lives in English annual, Krapar am lives in Modern Armenian amenamea (ամենամեայ). Don’t put aside Latin and Krapar!
Did you know that Armenian Gaghant (Կաղանդ) and the English word calendar are related? English calendar comes from Old French, and then from Latin calendarium (“account book”), which has its origin in calendae (“the first day of the month”).
This Latin word was also the source for the Greek word khalándai, which actually took a different meaning, “new year.” The word and the meaning went into Classical Armenian as gaghant (kaghant, in Classical Armenian pronunciation). Most interestingly, the word was only inherited by Western Armenian.
The familiar figure of Gaghant Baba (Կաղանդ Պապա), incidentally, is only known to Western Armenians too; Eastern Armenians know him as Tsemer Babig (Ձմեռ Պապիկ, “Grandfather Winter”). Gaghant Baba appears to be the Armenian version of French Père Noël ("Father Christmas"), but unlike his French colleague, the name is unrelated to Christmas, because it means “Father New Year.” Since Père Noël and Santa Claus bring presents on Christmas, perhaps this is why many people mistakenly think that Gaghant is a synonym of Dzenunt (Ծնունդ, “Christmas”), which is a mistake. Gaghant Baba has a different timing: he actually comes to Armenian children in the wee hours of New Year. By the way, if people tell you that they are coming for a visit on Gaghant, be aware: this means January 1.