The Berber New Year is celebrated January 12th in Algeria. Well, better to say the evening of the 11th. Spread throughout the Maghreb, the celebration is either the 12th, 13th or 14th of January depending on the region.
Yennayer is a celebration of the winter but also celebrations of the earth, in the hopes that the next harvest season is abundant. Dishes made out of wheat and legumes are prepared, Couscous, Cherchem, Tikourbabine, Khfaf, Mssemen and more are there to be enjoyed. It is all about wheat and beans. There is also a big spread of shelled mixed nuts and sweet treats to be shared. The tradition is to place the youngest child of the household in a big plate on the table and cover him with the nuts. In my family we also get the visit of " Aajouzat el Nayer" "عجوزة الناير, the old lady of Yennayer. During the evening while the whole family is gathered around some mint tea and delicious goodies, we hear heavy steps outside followed by loud knock on the door. As we open the door, there is nobody waiting except little purses made out of fabric, each embroidered with the name of the children present. I remember being terrified by the knocks on the door. Each purse is filled with candy, chocolate and a variety of nuts. I realize now that the little purses were the same every year but I honestly never thought to ask. My Mom probably still has mine somewhere, I'll ask her tom look for it. I remember it being blue with tiny little white flowers.
There are other legends around the old lady of Yennayer. In some parts of Algeria, it is said that the old lady went out on a bright sunny day and thinking the winter over teased Yennayer bidding farewell and telling him that he didn't do much damage that year. Yennayer got very mad and let thunder, lightening, rain, hail, snow and wind all loose on her. In some versions of the legend she dies while in others she is transformed en statue. I must admit that I enjoy my family's version much better at least she brings us sweet treats.
This year I prepared a very simple couscous with raisins and some Algerians pancakes called baghrir alongside the spread of mixed nuts, and before you ask me, no way the youngest of the family could fit in any plate we own, so we skipped that step.
I hope you enjoyed learning a little about Yennayer... Assegas Amegaz my friends (happy new year)