Every year when the world is still gearing up to celebrate Christmas, a unique and different winter festival almost synonymous to Christmas has already started in the three remote villages of Chitral in the northern Pakistan.
Chitrimas or Chamois is the winter festival of Kalash people living in the three villages of Rumbur, Bunboret and Birir. As you may already know Kalash are a unique people with no parallel found anywhere in the world except neighbouring Afghanistan. The festival is celebrated for two weeks from 9-22 December. However three special days are announced each year, 15-17 December this year, for the height of the festivities.
The Kalash people or the Kalasha live in unique houses made of local stone and wood which are stacked on top of one another against the hills so the roof of the lower house is the veranda of the upper. They make their living with staple crops like lentils and wheat and goat herding. Life is very traditional and, like in many in this part of the world, the division between men and their women is great. Family life, cattle herding and harvesting form their main livelihood with the occasional distraction of a festival or two. Women move into a Bashleni house during birthing and also when they are menstruating. Many aspects of the society are both communal and segregated and, typically, marriages are by arrangement.
Their festivals ae also unique spread over different times of the year which are celebrated wearing colourful beads over black embroidered gowns by the women folk. One of the most important festivals celebrated by the Kalasha is the Chitrimas or Chamois welcome the new year.
The Chamois festival is celebrated without using any musical instruments in the Rumbur and Bumborate villages, whereas residents of Birir village do use the musical instruments. Chamois festival is celebrated after the Kalash finish all their fieldwork and store all the sources of their basic needs. By this time of the year cheese, fruit and vegetables and grains are properly stored.
By this time, it is time for the Kalasha new year to set in. In fact, With the celebration of the festival, the Kalash month of “chawmos mastruk” sets in. Chamois is also called “ghona chawmos yat” which means, the great memorial Chamois festival.
The festival is considered to be a very sacred festival. After all it is the start of the New Year. It is the last festival of the year. It is the time when the entire family sacrifice and eat meat, it is celebrated by feasting, drinking of wine and merry making. In fact the Kalasha bey celebrating this festival thank their gods for the bounties bestowed on them during the year and pray for the same during the coming new year.
Before the proceedings of the festival start, the entire population remains indoor. It is celebrated by feasting and merry making until the elders, who sit on a hill top, watching the sun reaching the orbit, declare the advent of the New Year. Children go up to the mountain, where they divide into boys and girls, and respectively make a big bonfire. After singing songs for some time the fire will be extinguished and then the two groups will compete with each other for the size of the smoke that rises up in the air. Then they all go down the mountain and return to the village singing " songs of Sarazari" carrying branches cut down from the mountain top. The elders will be waiting chanting songs in the village.