Every year, on the 18th of January to remember the souls of the dead, Lifaanal is held. It is a ritual for the remembrance of the dead, also called «AdGomi». The Svans believe that the souls of the dead are visiting their families on this day.
The ritual has to do with the belief in the revival of the forces of nature and is, therefore, part of the cycle of new year's celebrations, the idea of which was to turn on the sun and renew the fruit-bearing forces. Similar holidays are celebrated in many parts of Georgia at different times of the year (Sultakreba, Suntoba, etc).
Lifanaal is a family ritual
On 18th of January the Svans first clean everything in the house. They fast all day and even in the evening they don't eat a lot – only some wheat porridge.
Before supper, they move the tables and the chairs around the fireplace. They put fasted food on the table such as bread, put there vodka as well and lit homemade candles. Then the whole family stands away from the table and the head of the family, without wearing a hat, names all the people who passed away from the family, prays for them and asks God to forgive them their sins. He also asks the dead people's souls to enter the house with kindness and bring health and happiness to the family.
If the Epiphany is on Monday, the ritual continues until then and it is called «Lisgvjinaal».
The different names of the ritual's breads
Expiration of souls visit, therefore on Monday, the whole family wakes up early in the morning. The women bake bread from wheat flour in different shapes and sizes.
Every type of bread has its own name. For example «Kinchkhild» which means small ladder. Before baking, it is pressed with a round stick to make the shape of a ladder. This bread is for lame deads who, in the belief of the people, need a ladder to come into the house. Another bread is the «Mukhurchunil»: It is 3 x 4 cm sized, with cheese inside and open from the top. This bread is for the dead children. The third bread is called «Jabiil». It is thin and round, filled with cheese and covered by melted cheese as well. It is pressed with a round stick. Nobody remembers the purpose of this bread.
After baking the bread and cooking the meat, everything is set on the table.
«Be kind and share kindness»
Now the ceremony starts. The whole family stands far from that table – except of the family's head, who stands in front of it. There is total silence in the house, everyone is sure that now the dead souls are around the table. The head of the family lowers his voice and speaks to the spirits: «I don’t force you to go and don’t even keep you here; be kind and share kindness, bless us before leaving».
Having said so, he kneels down, after him the other family members kneel down and then they all go back to their previous places.
Now the head of the family name all the dead souls and asks the Lord for forgiveness for their sins. Then he goes on his knees again, rises up says the same prayer as before, but now for the distant relatives. After the third kneel the head of the family takes the «Fichk» and puts it in the center of the room and asks the spirits to go back to their places and intermediates with Christ in order to avoid death for him and his family members. Furthermore he promises them that he will receive them with more honors in the future. Then, with a silent step, he pulls the round table outside; led by one family member with a burning candle.
After that, the Svans believe that the spirits are returning to their places. The Svans are convinced that throughout this time, their deceased souls visit the home and tell them tales.
The duration of a «Lifaanal» ceremony varies from 2 - 7 days per year. It starts on January 18th. And if the first day is a Monday, it will become one-week long.
In each village of Svaneti the «Lifaanal» ritual is performed slightly differently. In Latali village, which was considered the most traditional and religious village throughout Svaneti, during the Lifaanal period not a single family member or visitor entertains a ritual table. Food is allowed from the table and can be eaten at another table. The last morning when the souls are gone is called «Joodi Hams» which means «long morning». It is necessary to let them go before sunrise.
After Lifaanal, on the next morning, there is another blessing ritual held, which is called «Litooduri». The men from the village are gathered around the church and elect the leader which will hold the big wooden cross in his hands. The gathered people are going to visit all the families in the village, and all the families will be blessed.
«Please, god multiply bulls and cows to this family and a good harvest to their owners in fields. Increase the successors and heirs who were thought at night and accomplished on day, everything should be blessed».
This text must be repeated three times for each family. After that the doors are opened and the hosts bring a small table filled with various dishes, sweets and drinks, thus completing the ritual in every family, and finally finishing the evening again in the church praying for the whole village and each family.