Don’t wear white in Armenia on Vartavar! You are sure to get drenched with water! Armenians today celebrated their national holiday, Vartavar. Although today Vartavar is celebrated in Christianized form to celebrate Jesus’ transfiguration in his appearance to his disciples on Mount Tabor, it was originally a festival held in honour of Astghik, Goddess of water, love, and fertility. Traditional festival activities have survived into modern times, such as splashing one another with buckets of cold water. Seeing people pouring buckets of water from their balconies onto unsuspecting passersby is commonplace. Being splashed with water on this day is seen as cleansing, and Armenians believe they can begin a fresh start with the water washing away their wrongdoings. Traditionally songs, dances, and games were supplications to the Armenian gods to send rain to the dry earth.
This custom of splashing others with water comes from the legend of Astghik spreading love throughout the land of Armenia by sprinkling rose water. The name of the holiday itself derives its name from this legend, as vard means rose in Armenian, and Armenians used to offer roses to Astghik in ancient times on this day.
Another legend connecting the holiday to roses tells of Astghik rushing to Her beloved, Vahagn, god of fire and war, who was struggling against evil forces. She ran barefoot on her way across the field of roses to help him, injuring Her feet along the way and spilling Her blood upon them, bringing the first red roses into being. Ever since, the red rose has been a symbol of passionate love.
Astghik is seen as a Goddess of love and beauty, and as Her name means “little star” in Armenia, She is often associated with the planetary body Venus. The dove is one of Her sacred animals, and to this day on Vartavar, doves are set free by loving couples. If the dove flew over the girl’s house three times, it was an omen that her beau would marry her that autumn.