The Tour The Guidebook 63rd Birthday Life Celebrations

Brightly coloured scarves

Uzbeks love parties and birthday parties are no exception. Much of a family's social calendar consists of going to numerous birthday parties where relatives and friends gather together to eat, drink, talk and dance. Most of the time guests aren't formally invited but just remember to turn up year after year. Verbal invitations are sometimes given for special birthdays, such as those marking the beginning of a decade. However, the most celebrated birthday of all comes at the age of 63 - the age at which the prophet Muhammed died. Tradition dictates that a huge party is given at this age or sometime within the next couple of years, finances permitting. Men generally throw an especially extravagant party serving plov and with an entourage of video-cameraman, musicians and a dancer. Women have all this and more, since this particular birthday holds a special significance for a woman's life and death.

A woman's 63rd birthday is called a 'laychak' (scarf) celebration because this is the day she receives a large white scarf. After the eating and drinking begin to cease, the Halpa, (a sort of female Mullah) chants a blessing from the Koran and prays in the presence of the women guests. Then a close female relative places an Uzbek 'dopa' (traditional square hat) on the hostess' head over which she wraps the 'laychak’' scarf like a turban before arranging another scarf on top. All the female guests slowly rise and present their own gifts of brightly coloured scarves or money while kissing the woman on both cheeks. As a thank- you, the woman gives a deep 'salam' (bow) first to God and then to her husband and the other guests. The whole procedure finishes with another prayer followed by the usual dancing and merriment.

The whole point of this party is to congratulate the woman on attaining the honoured age of 63 as well as to help her prepare for her own death. Having outlived the Prophet, each additional year is seen as a bonus. The 'laychak' scarf is kept in a special place, along with a set of new clothes and everything necessary for a funeral, such as a shroud, perfume, a blanket for the corpse and material for the coffin. In this way, the woman is reminded of her mortality and the needful preparations are made. Upon her death, the 'laychak' scarf is given to the female undertakers. If a woman dies before her 63rd birthday, a 'laychak' scarf is placed over her body before the burial. After her 'laychak' party has taken place, a woman often wears another large white scarf over a normal headscarf.

If a woman is fortunate to live until the ripe old age of 83, her family throws another huge party celebrating a thousand months ('ming oylik). At this the woman in question wears a white dress and a white sheep is slaughtered especially for the occasion.

Guidebook Links:
‘Death and Dying’
‘Islam in Khorezm’