When I was a young child, my mother would take me to the annual Blessing of the Grapes Armenian ceremony and picnic every August.
To be honest, I hated going – not because of the ceremony, the grapes, or the inevitable snow cone melting down my forearms. Rather, because all those older Armenian ladies would give me slobbery kisses and pinch my cheek proclaiming my cuteness. And everybody spoke Armenian, which I didn’t understand.
Once I was a young adult, I began to appreciate the endless ceremony, historical pomp, and Old Testament tradition steeped in symbolism. Unfortunately, I was rarely in the town where I was born anymore to appreciate the richness of the Blessing of the Grapes tradition. In 2016, however, I returned there just to sink once again into the tradition. The ceremony originated as a blessing of what is considered the first harvest of the season — the grapes — and this fruit had a special place of honor at the event and picnic.
Food, music and traditional dancing at the Armenian Blessing of the Grapes
The Blessing of the Grapes Ceremony still takes place at Armenian churches all around the world in mid-August. For curious travelers, it remains a worthwhile tradition to visit and will feel as if you are in a different country. Anybody can attend, of course, and after the service and blessing – in Armenian with chanting, singing, prayers, a sermon and plenty of incense emanating from the so-called “censer” that is swung by participating priests – there is traditional food, music and dancing.
It is also a good place to pick up some food or baked items to go, since the church “ladies” (yes, yes, they still call them that…) bake and cook their heads off for weeks and weeks so you can buy plates of sweet paklava, bags of breads (chorag or ketah), baskets of fruit, and other goodies.
[div]HITT Tip: Just find an Armenian Church in your region and call it or look on its website for an events calendar. Or go to this directory page to find churches around the world that will likely have Blessing of the Grapes ceremonies in August.[/div]
Mid-August date based on the “Feast of the Assumption”
The date is not an exact one but is around the time of the “Feast of the Assumption,” also known as the “Assumption of Mary,” in mid-August (on or around the 15th). That means it will usually take place around the second or third weekend in August, on a Sunday, and if there are two churches in town – as there are in Fresno, Calif., where I was born, they usually agree on separate weekends. For example, in 2017, the St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno will celebrate on Aug. 13, while Holy Trinity Church – with its building on the National Register of Historic Places — will have its event on a different weekend most likely (as of our publication of this story in 2017, this calendar page had not yet been updated).
In 2016, at the ceremony I revisited, I still could not understand the Armenian spoken (unfortunately), but I could fully bask in the rich cultural history, traditional music, fantastic food, and dancing to one of the best-known “oud” string musicians in the world, Richard Hagopian (if you like the traditional sound of his instrument, the oud, you can purchase his albums through Amazon here).
[div]HITT Tip: If you are just desperate for some Mediterranean or Armenian food, then look up your area churches to find out when they have other dinners. They are often fundraisers for the church that happen at other times also, as did this Armenian Festival at St. Paul Church in Fresno, Calif. in May 2017.[/div]