Independence Day Celebrations in Bishkek (picture from meria.kg)

Holidays in Kyrgyzstan: A Guide

Published: June 10, 2020

This resource provides a list of those holidays of cultural importance in Kyrgyzstan. Dates, days off, and histories of the holidays are all included.


Long Weekends and Extra Days Off by Semester for 2020

Spring Summer Fall Winter
March 1 & 21
May 1, 5, 9, 24
July 31
August 31
November 7-8 January 1, 7
February 23

New Year (Жаны-Жыл)

December 31 – January 1
(days off: Jan 1 – Jan 7, 2020)
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on December 31.

One of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest holidays kicks off the year with a full week of celebration. Cities are elaborately decorated and most will have a New Year’s tree (similar to a Christmas Tree) on display in the center in the weeks leading up to the New Year. The Kyrgyz “Santa Claus” is named “Аяз Ата” (Father Frost) and sometimes referred to as “Дед Мороз” (Grandfather Frost) in the Russian style. His image, often Asiatic in appearance, joins other frost-related imagery in the streets. Actors dressed up at “Аяз Ата” or “Дед Мороз” roam the streets to take (usually paid) pictures with passersby. On the day itself, there is a lot of merryment, both in public and at private parties. Large family meals are eaten. At midnight, people gather around the television to hear the presidential New Year’s speech, a tradition left over from Soviet times, and to watch a firework display from Ala-Too Square, which itself is often crowded with people come to watch in person. After midnight, fireworks and, especially in rural areas, even guns are shot off into the sky.


Orthodox Christmas /
(Нартууган/Иса пайгамбардын туулган күнү)

January 7th
Public holiday, day off

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7. This date is derived from the Julian calendar, which is two weeks between the Georgian calendar now used by most governments. In Kyrgyzstan, which is majority-Muslim, but which has a minority Orthodox Christian population of about 9.4%. Many of these are ethnic Russians, which make up about 6.6% of the population. Orthodox Christmas is a public holiday, meaning schools and most businesses are closed. The day, however, is observed as a traditional holiday by relatively few in Kyrygzstan, even those who identify as Orthodox Christian. Even in Russia, Easter is by far the main religious holiday, with Christmas a fairly distant second. Thus, for most in Kyrgyzstan, this is simply a day off and perhaps a quiet reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s diversity.


Old New Year (Эски Жаны-Жыл)

January 13th
Not a day off

When Russia switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, making its calendar standard with most of the rest of the world, the Orthodox Church stuck with the old Julian calendar. Thus began the tradition of celebrating New Year’s twice: once by each calendar. The two are currently 14 days apart. Interestingly, although the communists officially frowned on the “new” holiday, and despite the fact that it is connected with the Orthodox Church while Central Asia is predominantly Muslim, the tradition did gain recognition throughout the Central Asian lands of the USSR. While not a widely-spread celebration, the day is known and celebrated by some, especially in urban centers. It is usually treated as a reason to meet with friends and share food, which is a common pastime in Kyrgyzstan. Occasionally, more elaborate celebrations will happen with gifts, trips, or even costumes, although this is rare.


Defender of the Fatherland Day
(Ата Мекенди коргоочулардын күнү)

February 23rd
Public holiday, day off

This holiday is common across post-Soviet lands. In 1918, just after the Germans had captured Minsk, the Soviets declared a state of emergency and called for a draft, drawing tens of thousands of people into what would become the Red Army. Thus, February 23rd was originally known as “Red Army Day.” The name of the holiday was not officially changed by the Kyrgyz government until 2003 and was only declared a public holiday in independent Kyrgyzstan in 2004. The day is marked by honoring veterans and military service personnel. Parades and concerts are common.


Maslenitsa (Масленица)

Variable (end of February or early March)
Not a day off

This is another example of a Russian holiday that spread to Central Asia despite the USSR officially frowning on it and despite the cultural and religious differences between Central Asians and Russians. Maslenitsa stems from Russian traditions celebrating the coming spring. It is celebrated with games, song, and by eating piles of blini, which are Russian pancakes, with various fillings. A pagan tradition, it now precedes Orthodox Lent, making it the equivalent of Mardi Gras. While it is not considered “native” to Kyrgyzstan, modest celebrations of the holiday can be found across the country every year, often led by Kyrgyzstan’s Russian minority.


International Women’s Day
(Аялдардын эл аралык майрамы) 

March 8th
Public holiday, day off

Kyrgyzstan is one of the twenty-seven countries worldwide, mainly former Soviet republics, which celebrates International Women’s Day as a national holiday. It was first established at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference. While activists in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark celebrated the holiday for the first time on March 19, 1911, the Soviet Union was the first to make it a public holiday in 1917. The day is celebrated to this day in Kyrgyzstan with men giving women gifts – most often of flowers, candy, and/or champagne although more elaborate gifts are common as well. In recent years, the date has become one for activism, with feminist rights marches organized and sometimes taking place in Bishkek, if not interceded first by the police.


Nowruz – The New Year of the Eastern People

March 21st
Public holiday, day off
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on March 20. 

Plov served with Korean carrot salad and boortsog – a traditional Nowruz dish in Kyrgyzstan!

In addition to January 1, Central Asians also celebrate Nowruz, the Eastern New Year as well. This holiday marks the coming of spring and is celebrated on the day of the spring equinox, meaning that its date will shift slightly from year to year. Although this holiday has its roots in Zoroastrianism, and many of its traditions still stem from decidedly non-Muslim traditions, almost everyone in the Muslim-majority Kyrgyzstan marks this day joyously. Nooruz is a celebration of overcoming the harshness of the winter and the coming new life and bounty of spring. In Kyrgyzstan, it is a national holiday and a day-off. In Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square, a festive city-sponsored celebration takes place that includes music and traditional food such as somolok (a wheat and flour-based soup, traditionally cooked for at least 10 hours, boortsog (a fried dough typically eaten as a dessert with sugar or honey) and, of course, beshbarmak and plov. See what SRAS students have observed at Nowruz celebrations in Bishkek here.


International Workers’ Day or May Day

(Эмгек күнү)

May 1st
Public holiday, day off
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on April 30. 

This public holiday, celebrated in many parts of the world, is associated with the start of spring as well as the celebration of workers. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed. In the USSR, this holiday was celebrated with major workers’ demonstrations, but these days its political significance declined. It is often marked by sporting events, minor parades, and picnics. A handful of communist demonstrations can also still often be seen in major cities.


Kyrgyz Constitution Day
(Кыргыз Республикасынын конституция күнү)

May 5th
Public holiday, day off
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on May 4. 

On May 5, 1993, eighteen months after becoming independent, Kyrgyzstan adopted its new constitution, officially confirming its status as a democratic state. Even though that constitution was modified in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and even replaced with a new one in 2010, May 5th still remains the official date of the celebration of Kyrgyzstan’s foundational legal document.

On this day, the president of Kyrgyzstan usually addresses the nation. In addition to that, various political organizations make efforts to remind the Kyrgyz of their rights and liberties.


Victory Day (Жеңиш күнү)

May 9th
Public holiday, day off
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on May 8.

Victory Day celebrations in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan

Victory Day is a Soviet holiday that serves to commemorate the triumph of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany during WWII. Every year in Bishkek, a military parade takes place. It includes military vehicles and marching Kyrgyz infantry, joined by helicopter and Air Force flyovers. Sometimes Russian soldiers participate as “guest marchers” to commemorate the partnership that helped beat the Nazis and continues in many ways today. Kyrgyzstan’s President delivers a speech at Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, honoring veterans and celebrating the military before laying a wreath at the Eternal Flame monument in Ala-Too Square. There are also ongoing horse games on this day, which are connected with long-standing equestrian Kyrgyz military traditions dating back to their nomadic times. These are well-attended, and also host contests, concerts, and performances, giving them a festive atmosphere. See a photo essay of celebrations on our Flikkr account.


Ramadan (Орозо)

April 24 – May 23, 2020
no days off

As of 2011, around 90% of Kyrgyz are considered to be Muslim, making Islam the most widely held faith in the country. It comes as no surprise then that major Muslim holidays are celebrated there as well. Ramadan is a Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer. It is often referred to in Kyrgyzstan as “Орозо” (“Orozo”) from the Arabic word for “to fast.” Internationally one of the most important Muslim holidays, this month is widely recognized and observed in Kyrgyzstan. For more on food traditions of this holiday in Kyrgyzstan, see this article by SRAS student Eireen Busa.


RSL-Side-Bar1Eid al-Fitr (Орозо айт)

May 24, 2020
a day-off

Eid al-Fitr is a holiday that marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next Islamic month, Shawwal. It is most often celebrated with large-scale communal prayers and Zakat al-Fitr, which is a donation of food to the needy, as it is believed that no one should stay hungry on a holy day. Visiting relatives or hosting a family gathering is also not uncommon.


Eid al-Adha (Курман айт)

Jul 31, 2020
a day-off

Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, is a Muslim celebration, honoring the willingness of prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son to obey the God’s command. Before the sacrifice was made, however, the God intervened, providing a lamb as a replacement for Ibrahim’s son.

Celebrating Eid al-Adha starts with dressing in clean clothes and attending a communal morning prayer, which is then followed with a meat-based dinner (the meat is supposed to come from an animal sacrifice), once again a charitable food donation and, occasionally, paying tribute to deceased relatives.


Independence Day of the Kyrgyz Republic
(Кыргыз Республикасынын Көз карандысыздыгын күнү)

August 31
Public holiday, day off

This is Kyrgyzstan’s primary state holiday, commemorating the anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The main event, as is often the case in Kyrgyzstan, happens on Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square. Thousands of spectators in conjunction with most of the country’s high ranking politicians, including the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Supreme Council, and Mayor of Bishkek attend. A theatrical prologue of historical figures who contributed to the establishment of Kyrgyzstan as a nation is shown, harkening back to Kyrgyz national mythology and traditions of ancestor worship. This is followed by a speech from the President. Finally there is a performance of the Mamlekettik Gimni – the Kyrgyz national anthem – by a choir and orchestra, along with Kyrgyz traditional dance ensembles. Every five years, largely due the expense involved, there is a military parade in Bishkek. Smaller military parades are also held in other cities in Kyrgyzstan, such as Osh and Jalal-Abad. Other events are sometimes scheduled to coincide with Independence Day. For instance, in 2019, the equestrian games in the Issyk-Kul Region took place on the days leading up to Independence Day.


Days of History and Commemoration of Ancestors
(Тарых жана ата-бабаларды эскерүү күндөрү)

November 7-8
Public holiday, two days off
Kyrgyz will officially work a half day on November 6

This holiday, established in 2017 in its current form, is one of the most recently added for the people of Kyrgyzstan. As it is new, many in Kyrgyzstan are actually unaware that it exists, although the state is generally striving to establish it as part of the Kyrgyz holiday lineup.

This holiday replaced the Great October Revolution Day, celebrated under the USSR. The new holiday, with a revised name intending to place it in a wider historical context, now focuses on honoring those who suffered in the 1916 Central Asian revolt, which was violently suppressed by tsarist Russia, and those repressed under the USSR in the 1930-s. It can also be assumed to be a general day of recognizing the importance of one’s ancestors, which has always been important in Kyrgyz tradition.

On this holiday, flowers are laid by the Kyrgyz president at Ata-Beyit, a memorial of the Soviet repressions’ victims near Bishkek. Libraries and museums usually have open house days and thematic exhibitions, encouraging locals to read and learn about Kyrgyz history. Documentaries are also shown country-wide – both in cinemas and on TV.


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SRAS Wikis are maintained collectively by SRAS Challenge Grant Writers and Home and Abroad Scholars. They are meant to be continually updated repositories of information created for students and by students to best suit each SRAS location.

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