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On next January 12th, the Berber people will celebrate Yennayer and enter the year 2693.
Yennayer is the only non Muslim feast shared by all the people in North Africa. In each part of the region, it will be the opportunity for various festivities and family gatherings around a special meal.
Yennayer is the feast when the Imazighen (or “free men”) celebrate the coming New Year. Like other civilisations in the world (Russian, Chinese, Irish, Arabic etc.) the Imazighen did have their own ancient calendar, based on both the changing of seasons, the different cycles in the vegetation that determine vital agricultural times and on the positions of stars like the Moon and the Sun.
For the Imazighen, Yennayer first means a gate that opens onto a new year and it is called “tabburt useggwass” (gate of the year). Its celebration is explained by the importance given to the rituals and superstitions of the time that still exist in part nowadays. This very time of year is particularly singled out as this season corresponds to the shortage of the food supplies that were kept over the winter. It is important then to renew one’s spiritual strength by calling on the rituals: at this time of year, the ritual has to symbolize abundance.
In order for the new coming year to be more fruitful and the land more fertile, it is thus necessary to purify oneself and to clean all places. Ritual laws such as the sacrifice of an animal (Asfel) at the beginning of the year are still complied with and nowadays this ritual is still used to bless the foundations of a new building.
The Asfel ritual symbolizes expelling evil forces and malevolent spirits to make room for the benevolent spirits that will assist people the whole year round. If people can afford it, they will sacrifice as many animals as there are members in the family. Tradition requires the sacrifice of a rooster per man, a hen per woman and both for pregnant women so as not to forget the future baby.
If meat is lacking, every member of the family will be symbolized by an egg topping a crown of pasta.
Dinner on that night will be served late and in order to foresee a fruitful year according to the Imazighen, the meal will have to be very copious; the meat from the slaughtered animal will be served according to the rites.
People with little means who cannot afford such sacrifices will serve dry meat instead, like “acedluh”, that has been stored for such occasions. During dinner, a ceremony will be performed so as to protect absent people and to insure a good coming year. Absent people will not be forgotten: spoons will be placed by the mother to symbolize their presence and a small portion of food will be left for them in the collective dish that is supposed to represent the strength of the whole family.
After the meal, it is fitting to check if everybody has eaten one’s fill: it is the mistress of the household (the grandmother or the mother) who asks the children if their have eaten their fill. The reply is “becqua neswa” (yes we ate and we are full). The mistress of the household does not forget questioning either relatives or neighbours who in turn offer different foods: it is not customary to leave any dish empty on the day of “laâwacher” (blessed day).
The feast lingers on the days following the ritual: the nuts stored or bought the rest of the year like dried figs, almonds, hazelnuts, dates etc. will also be offered to the guests.
On this occasion and in order to celebrate the Berber culture, the A.F.M.E. will open the first Amazigh Festival on January the 17th in partnership with Essaouira Cultural delegation