Kyrgyz Holidays

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

Kyrgyz Holidays 2024: A Complete Guide

Published: December 25, 2023

Kyrgyz holidays include many inherited from the USSR (although most of those have changed their form at least slightly). Kyrgyz holidays also include many adopted from Russian culture. However, many holidays have now been added to the calendar to celebrate patriotism toward independent Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzstan’s long-held Muslim heritage. Thus, Soviet, national, Orthodox, Muslim, modern, and ancient holidays can all be seen celebrated in a Kyrgyz year. Below, read about the history and traditions of these Kyrgyz holidays as well as their dates and days off.



Days Off

Long Weekends and Extra Days Off by Semester in 2024

Spring Summer Fall Winter
March 8, 21
April 8, 9
May 1, 6, 9
June 17
August 31
September 2
November 7-8
January 1, 8
February 23

New Year

In Kyrgyz: Жаны-Жыл
December 31 – January 1
(Days off: January 1 2024; also December 31 is a half day)

One of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest holidays kicks off the year with elaborately decorated cities. 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 merriment, 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 televised firework display from Ala-Too Square. The square itself is often crowded with people who come to watch in person. After midnight, fireworks and, especially in rural areas, even guns are shot off into the sky in celebration.


Orthodox Christmas

In Kyrgyz: Нартууган / Иса пайгамбардын туулган күнү
January 7, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: January 7- January 8, 2024)

Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7. This date is derived from the Julian calendar, which is two weeks between the Georgian calendar now used by most governments. Kyrgyzstan is majority-Muslim, but 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. Recognizing the importance of the holiday for this substantial minority, Orthodox Christmas is a public holiday in Kyrgyzstan, meaning that schools and most businesses are closed. The day, however, is observed as a traditional holiday by relatively few in Kyrgyzstan, even those who identify as Orthodox Christian. Even in Russia, Easter is by far the main religious holiday, with Christmas a quite 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

In Kyrgyz: Эски Жаны-Жыл
January 14, 2024
Not a day off

When Soviet 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

In Kyrgyz: Ата Мекенди коргоочулардын күнү
February 23, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: February 23, 2024; also February 22 is officially a half day.)

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, the day the draft began, 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 Kyrgyzstan’s veterans and military service personnel.

Kyrgyzstan practices universal conscription. All men must serve at least nine months in the military, with few exceptions made. Thus, this day is essentially a day to honor all males in society. Congratulations and small gifts are typically given in a manner similar to Father’s Day in the US. Military parades and concerts are common.


Maslenitsa

In Kyrgyz: Масленица
Variable (March 11 – March 17, 2024)
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 Slavic traditions celebrating the coming spring. It is celebrated with games, song, and by eating piles of blini, which are Slavic 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 significant Russian minority.


International Women’s Day

In Kyrgyz: Аялдардын эл аралык майрамы
March 8, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: March 7, 2024; also March 6 is officially a half day.)

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 still 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.


Nooruz

In Kyrgyz: Нооруз
March 21, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: March 21, 2024, also March 20 is officially a half day)

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

In addition to January 1, Central Asians also celebrate Nooruz, the Eastern New Year, as well. This holiday marks the coming of spring and is traditionally celebrated on the day of the spring equinox, meaning that its date will shift slightly from year to year. Although it 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.


The People’s April Revolution Day

In Kyrgyz: Кыргызстанда Элдик Апрель революциясы күнү
April 7, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: Aprl 7 – April 8, 2024)

In the last two decades, Kyrgyzstan witnessed not one, but two state-wide revolutions – taking place just 5 years apart from each other. The first one, which occured after the controversial parliamentary election of 2005, put one of the oppositionary leaders, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, on the presidential seat. However, in 2010, following long-term frustration over the perceived corruption in his administration and a recent rise in utility rates, another uprising happened, forcing Bakiyev to flee the country. In 2011, his successor, Almazbek Atambayev, approved a new state holiday on April 7, commemorating The People’s April Revolution Day.

Technically, the government created by that revolution has since been deposed. Atambayev’s choosen successor attempted to arrest him on corruption charges after Atambayev left office in 2017. In 2020, that successor, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, was forced to resign after massive street protests related in part to Jeenbekov’s handling of the charges against his predecessor and in part related to allegations of government corruption and vote rigging in the 2020 parlimentary elections. Those protests are generally now known as the 2020 Kyrgyz Revolution. Despite the occurance of the more recent revolution, this holiday remains on the books.


May Day

In Kyrgyz: Эмгек күнү
May 1, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: May 1, 2024, also April 30 is officially a half day)

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 has declined. It is often marked by sporting events, minor parades, and picnics. A handful of communist demonstrations can still often be seen in major cities. The day is occasionally still referred to by its formal name under the USSR: International Workers’ Day.


Kyrgyz Constitution Day

In Kyrgyz: Кыргыз Республикасынын конституция күнү
May 5, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: May 5 – May 6, 2024)

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 replaced with a new one in 2010 and replaced again in 2021, 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

In Kyrgyz: Жеңиш күнү
May 9, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: May 9 2024; also May 8 is officially a half day)

Kyrgyz Holidays
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. Some 360 thousand Kyrgyz fought in that war, many were relocated outside of Kyrgyzstan to staff industrial plants, and an estmated 70 thousand died in battle. Every year in Bishkek, a military parade takes place to honor these veterens and celebrate what is considered a national victory for the Kyrgyz. The parade usually 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.


Ramadan

In Kyrgyz: Орозо
March 11 – April 9, 2024
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 in Kyrgyzstan. For more on observance of and food traditions surrounding this holiday in Kyrgyzstan, see this article by SRAS student Eireen Busa.


RSL-Side-Bar1 Eid al-Fitr

In Kyrgyz: Орозо айт
April 10, 2024
Public Holiday, day off
(Days off: April 10, 2024)

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

In Kyrgyz: Курман айт
June 17, 2024
Public holiday, day off
(Days off: June 17, 2024)

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, 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). A charitable food donation is expected and, occasionally, tribute is paid to deceased relatives.


Independence Day of the Kyrgyz Republic

In Kyrgyz: Кыргыз Республикасынын Көз карандысыздыгын күнү
August 31, 2024
Public holiday, days off
(Days off: August 31 – September 2, 2024 also August 30 is officially a half day)

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

In Kyrgyz: Тарых жана ата-бабаларды эскерүү күндөрү
November 7-8, 2024
Public holiday, days off
(Days off: November 7 – November 8, 2024 also November 6 is officially a half day)

This holiday, established in 2017 in its current form, is one of the most recently added for the people of Kyrgyzstan.

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 near Bishkek to the victims of Soviet repression. 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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