Fresno Hosts Traditional Prpoor Celebration

FRESNO–Hundreds of community members from Fresno and elsewhere in California gathered at the California Armenian Home grounds from September 26 to September 28 for the traditional Prpoor Festival.

Following the grand opening ceremony, a performance by the California State University Fresno Theater Arts Department made a presentation on William Saroyan. This was followed by a live performance by the “AYF All-Star Band.”

The Prpoor excitement began early Saturday morning when Fresno’s Homenetmen Boy Scouts were joined by students from the Charlie Keyan Armenian School for grape harvest, crushing and cooking ceremony. The Prpoor blessing, which was led by the clergy from the Holy Trinity and St. Paul Armenian churches took place that afternoon.

That day, entertainment was provided by Maggie, who put on a special performance for children, as well as the San Fernando Valley Hamazkayin Nairi Dance Troupe, which performed traditional Armenian dances. Legendary dance instructor Tom Boziguian was on hand for Armenian dance instructions, while Kourken Khanzadian led a drum circle. The day’s events were culminated by a live performance by Khatchig Jingirian and the “Armenian All-Star Band.”

The festivities continued on Sunday with food, entertainment and a bazaar for the entire family.

Prpoor (pronounced puhr-poor, meaning foam or froth) began in the village of Kessab, Syria over 800 years ago, by Armenian villagers. The story of Prpoor is as follows…after the autumn harvest, an ad hoc committee of local farmers is very casually formed and a date is set for the festivities.

Meanwhile, a town crier spreads the news to all the children in the village to gather all the grapes that are left over from the harvest. These final remnants of the year’s crop, called strippers, are crushed, much in the fashion of a village–by foot. The juice is set over a wood fire to boil for hours.

The climax of the event is reached when the juice, now a thick molasses, reaches the proper consistency to begin foaming. The “godfather,” an informally appointed leader, reaches in, using a hollowed gourd as a ladle, and begins to ribbon the molasses through the air shouting “PRPOOR, PRPOOR” at which point all the villagers follow in his cry. Actually, this is when the true party begins.

As the villagers commence in traditional line dance others stand in line to taste the sweet foam of Prpoor, that is traditionally sampled with a Bay leaf. Legend says that the Prpoor has medicinal purposes too; helping cure flu’s, headaches and even fevers, but that could just be an excuse to have the party in the first place!


A Childhood Reflection of Prpoor

From the first time I took my first three steps without falling, I can remember celebrating the traditional Armenian occasion, Masarah, the harvest of the grapes. Because my extended and immediate family lives on vineyards in the outskirts of Fresno, Masarah is a perfect family tradition to celebrate our Armenian heritage and culture.

Awakening at the crack of dawn, we make our way down the rows of vineyards to find the sweet reward of hidden golden grapes. With the morning sun beating on my face and my sticky clothes clinging to my body, it feels as though time has stopped. At that moment, with the bucket at my foot and a bundle of luscious grapes in my hands, I feel as though I am holding the vibrant sensation of life.

To my right sits my grandmother under a tree, her face marked by a familiar express. The wrinkles on her forehead and the brown coloring of her skin reflect the years of tiredness and aching. Her eyes, however, sparkle with dignified pride and innocent happiness as she watches the future generations carry on the family tradition. Yes, my grandmother’s job is well done. She has imparted her knowledge and tradition to us and instilled it deep in our hearts.

In her hand, my grandmother tightly clasps a tan antique cup, as if she is grasping onto a memory. I cannot distinguish between the pear shape of the mug and my grandmother’s fingers as both have the same aged look. Each crack, like the creases on my grandmother’s forehead, marks the history it has endured. If the mug could talk it would tell about past family Masarahs. You would hear the stories of past generations picking and smashing grapes as we do today, preparing to make our unique grape juice.

Each year I anxiously await the harvest. Having a family deep in family rituals fills me with an overwhelming sense of love. As I survey my surroundings I make a promise to myself: I vow to keep my family tradition alive.

Surrounded by close friends we wait in anticipation for the grape juice to end its final stage of preparation and become our homemade molasses. In the midst of this festive atmosphere I am awakened to Masarah’s true meaning: gratitude. The crushing of the grapes and the making of the grape juice symbolizes gratitude for the crop which our land yields each year.

My experience with the Masarah has shown me the importance of humble gratefulness and cultural appreciation. The Masarah is a profound part of my strong bond with my family and my deep respect for tradition. When I am eighty years of age, in the wake of modernization, I will hold the same antique cup and watch my children perform the ritual of the Masarah, as my grandmother does today. I will know that I have nourished a strong and loving family through age-old Armenian tradition.


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