Nardugan (Nar-Dugan, Nar-dogan, Nardogan) is a festival celebrated by Turkish people heralding the rising Sun on the Winter Solstice (December 21 – 22). I aim to explain the relationship between the celebrations of the Nardugan in Turkish culture, the definition and root analysis of the word Nardugan, and provide a narrative overview of Tengrism with a focus on concepts on Tengri, Ülgen, Erlik, Kün Ana (Küneş), and the Tree of Life (Hayat Ağacı). Association between the new year, Nevruz, and Nardugan are also briefly explained. The article contains an homage to the Sumerologist Muazzez İlmiye Çığ, who wrote several books on Sumerians and Turkish culture. Muazzez İlmiye Çığ was the first Turkish scientist who provided insight into Nardugan. The discussion on Nardugan and whether it holds scientific and cultural roots in contemporary Turkish culture should continue an area of scientific investigation. I had access only to English, Russian, Tatar written in Russian alphabet, and Turkish resources [1]. A shortcoming of this narrative review and research around Nardugan is the lack of more research with access to sources in Chinese, Russian, Tatar Turkish, and Turkish in Kazakistan (Kazakhstan), Kırgızistan (Kyrgyzstan), and Azerbaycan. More ethnographic, archaeologic, and geo-social research will provide the origins of Nardugan in countries in the Ural-Altai regions, Tatarstan, Kazakistan, Kırgızistan, Azerbaycan, and today’s Northern Iran, where 25 million Turks live.

The word Nardugan and its variations

The word ‘nar[2]‘ means Sun[3] in Mongolian and Tatar Turkish, and contemporary Turkish expressions such as ‘red like a sun / nar gibi kızardı [4]‘ and ‘burning like a sun / nar gibi yanıyor ‘ may have been derived from this linguistic discourse.

Turkish verb “Doğmak” (to be born, to rise) merged with ‘nar,’ making it ‘nardoğan’ (1). The combined word means ‘the rising sun’ where Sun is ‘nar’ and the rising is ‘dogan (doğan).’ The term “Nardugan,” therefore, means sunrise or the rising Sun (2) (3). ‘Dugan’ is another way of saying ‘dogan’ (doğan in Turkish letters). Other equivalents of the word are nardogan, nartugan, nartavan, nartukan, nardvan, nardava (2). For example, variations of the term about celebrations on December 22 may have been transferred from Tatar Turkish to other people, according to the Tatar Turkish expert Ahmetyanov (reference – needed). İlbaris Nadirov and the Çuvaş expert V.G. Rodionov also provide expert opinion that the word ‘nardugan’ must have entered the other dialects of Tatar Turkish. According to other accounts, Tatars may also call this holiday ‘Koyaş Tugan,’ meaning rising Sun, where Koyaş is another Tartar word for the Sun. The following are some names of Nardugan used by some other Turkish tribes.

  • Tatars: Nardugan
  • Udmurts: Nartugan
  • Çuvaş (Chuvash): Nartukan (may also be found: Nartuhan or Nartukhan)
  • Mordva Mukşı (Mokshi): Nardvan
  • Mordva Erze: Nardava
  • Mari: Nardugan

We need more evidence to determine whether the Udmurts call their winter celebration, Nartugan. Udmurts living in the Udmurt Republic (or Udmurtia) and in Bashkurdistan, celebrate around solstices (4). The Udmurts living in Bashkurdistan may have been preserved from Christian religious assimilation by their Muslim surroundings, allowing for collective seasonal rituals before the solstice. One researcher notes,

According to Vereshchagin, the Udmurts living in the [then] current Sharkani region celebrated a ceremony similarly called on Christmas Day (Vereshchagin 1995: 63) (5); Vladykin claims the holiday was called tolsur ‘the winter beer’ (Vladykin 1994: 226) (6). This day marked the beginning period of the winter solstice and the Christmas vozho dyr. The Udmurts of the Glazov county called it vozho shyd s’ion – the eating of the vozho soup’ (Pervukhin 1888: 125, 135) (7).”

This finding corroborates that Udmurts may be celebrating a winter solstice-related celebration, but a reference to the word ‘Nardugan’ is missing.

There could be synonyms for Nardugan. For example, the Chuvash also call the New Year celebrations or rituals surkhuri or sēnē sul (çene çul) as well as ‘Nartukan’ (8).

The influence of Tengrianism – the ancient Turkic cult of Tengri, the God of the Sun and the Sky – on the formation of the traditional culture of the Tatar people has been studied (9). One of the main elements of the belief system in Tatar culture is the festive culture according to the Tatar calendar. The origin of the main Tatar calendar holidays – Sabantuya, Jiena, and Nardugan – is connected to the rites of public prayers and sacrifices, held in the border periods of the change of seasons by the ancestors of the Tatars in honor of Tengri and spiritual ancestors (10).

Activities during Nardugan

Nardugan is the time to make wishes, give gifts, dance, and sing around the tree representing the tree of life. Ülgen grants all wishes during Nardugan. People celebrate under a pine tree (Akçam – white pine), representing the tree of life. Turks are grateful to Ülgen for winning the fight against darkness and, thus, for a rising sun and longer days. People put their favorite gifts for Ülgen as gifts at the bottom of the tree (but the gifts are for children and loved ones, as depicted in the novel by Cengiz Aytmatov – more about this below under the subtitle, ‘Ayaz Ata’). Activities include storytelling, jokes, and fortunetelling as well as feasting.

The Chuvash includes games of fortunetelling to predict the future lives of young people at marriage age (8), (9). Similar games of fortunetelling about lives of young people after their marriage is also observed among the Mordovian and Tatar Turkish wedding ceremonies and folklore around Nardugan (9). For example, the term ‘Nardutan’ is used to talk about the winter solstice games of December 22 by Tatars, the title ‘Folk Omens: Trust it or not’ in a 1987 book in Russian (10). Tatars living in Kazan also use the term ‘nardugan çabu’ for the games during the winter solstice (11). The games are said to be also found among the Kızılbaş Turks, Turkmens, Bessarabiye Armenians, and the Komi people (1). The Tatars used to play games and fortunetelling during Nardugan (12).

Connection of Nevruz – the New Day – and Nardogan – the Celebration of the Winter Solstice

Some cultures may use Nevruz (nev-ruz; yeni gun, meaning new day) and Nardugan interchangeably or know one and not the other (13). This could occur due to differences in climate zone. There are several other terms with different names. For example, northern Turkish groups and Gagauz Turks may not carry Nevruz in their vocabulary as the new year or the new day of celebrations but associate such celebrations with Nardugan or other similar winter celebrations. Some examples are:

  • Cilgayak among the Altays,
  • Cilpazi among Hakaslar,
  • Isiah among Yakut, and
  • Sabantoy (Sapan-tuyi) among the Kirim Turks.

In the Turkish world, this day has been accepted as a special day for Turks since ancient times. Celebrations were held on this day by performing various rituals. People gave many names to the ‘new day.’ (14) Some of these are Nevruz, Norız, Navrız, Ergenekon, Bozkurt, Çağan, Nooroz, Novruz, Noruz, Noyruz, Navrez, Solstice, Mevris, Great Day of the Nation, Ulu Kün, Furry Marta, Spring Feast, New Year, New Day, Mereke, Meyram Known as, Nartukan, Nartavan, Isiakh Feast, Spring Feast, Yörük Feast, Altay Ködürgeni, Sultan-ı Navrız, Sultan-ı Nevruz, Nevruz Sultan, Mart Nine, Baba Martı. All these celebrations are during 21 March, except for Nardugan, which is 21-22 December until the end of the full moon after Winter Solstice.

Ülgen, Erlik, Kün Ana (Küneş Ana)

According to the mythological beliefs of the ancient Turks, light, and darkness (day and night) constantly fight. On December 21, after a long struggle, the Sun defeats night, and then Sun rises again with days getting longer (Nardugan = the Rising Sun).

According to this belief, the tree of life (Beyterek or Temir Kazık) creates a conduit between people and God from the very heart of the Earth, reaching the lofty Sky, where God (Ülgen – Tengri) lives (Temir Kazık is the Sirius star and Beyterek is the tree of life – more on this later). Ülgen shares joy and happiness, and grants all wishes to Nardugan.

Erlik [5] is a highly mighty figure in black robes and long black hair with some demeaning attributes. He is without reason, with blood-red eyes, a bloody face, and a body full of snakes. He has a large belly (so large that a belt has a hard time to hold and so big that people have a hard time measuring) (15). It has horns and long eyelids with long eyelashes. Erlik is evil. It reminds us of the Krampus (16). Altay Turks attribute evil to Erlik.

Erlik acts the devil on all days of the year except for Nardugan. At the beginning of the creation, Erlik was alright. After he was created, he blew soil from the depths of the waters so that humans and creatures could live on solid ground. According to ancient Turkish mythology, there was nothing but water in the first creation. Erlik was the only one strong enough to bring soil from the depths. Thus, he formed the ‘ground’ for people to live. However, Erlik becomes entrenched with jealousy later when he learns that Ülgen lives in the Golden Mountain, sitting on a golden throne while he is on Earth. The Golden Mountain and golden throne symbolize power and enlightenment in archaic Turkish culture. Enraged, Erlik turns evil (15). In another version, Erlik is the human Ülgen creates out of the mud. At first, Erlik is good. Later, he starts to see himself as equal to Ülgen. Finally, Ülgen punishes Erlik by placing him underground (17).

On the Nardugan, Erlik goes through a transformation. Erlik wears a red caftan, hat, belt, and leather boots. The ‘red’ caftan Erlik wears is a testament to the old-time Turkish clothes with the leather belt and the boots in Central Asia and the Altay. Such clothing protects against the harsh cold prominent in the region. The hat is a clever addition, perhaps, concealing Erlik’s horns. Red color catches the eye; hence the saying, ‘Turk’s gaze is on the red [6].’ Erlik carries a large sack out of which he gives gifts and sweets to children (15). Some of his attributes, such as a big belly, red robe, leather belt and boots, and a large sack of goodies, are like modern pictures of Santa Claus (18). What about his hideous appearance with the vast eyelids and bloody eyes?

Why would Erlik become an excellent guy helping those in need and children, giving gifts, but only during Nardugan? Does Erlik transform because of a testament to his earliest days of creation when he was relatively better than later, bringing Earth from the depths of the oceans so that creatures could survive? Erlik’s good behavior during Nardugan could be an attempt to gain sympathy by giving toys, being friendly, or at least ‘seeming’ nice to people because the darkness loses at the end of the Winter Solstice.

There are some other mythological figures separate from Ülgen and Erlik. One such figure is Ayaz Ata which may look like Santa Claus, especially in Kazakistan (Kazakhstan). Ayaz Ata can also be seen in Kırgızistan (Kyrgyzstan). Shahta Baba is similar in Azerbaycan (Azerbaijan) and Özbekistan (Uzbekistan). The fact that the word Şahta (Shaxta, Şaxta) means ‘hearth’ (ocak in Turkish) in the Özbek Turkish is meaningful. A similar character is Kış Baba (Qish Baba) in Tatar culture, which means ‘Winter Father.’ Başkurts (Bashkurts) also call the character Kış Babası (Qish Babasi – the Father of the Winter) (19). The role played by Ülgen or Erlik may have transformed into Ayaz Ata over time in different regions.

Ayaz Ata, Ayas Han, Shahta Baba

Ayaz is the God of the cold. Other equivalent known words are Ayas or Ayoz. It is made of the moonlight (ay ışığı), hence the relationship of ‘ay’ (moon) to Ayaz[7]. For example, the expression, ‘Ayaz çıkmış’ meaning ‘it is freezing’ in contemporary Turkish, comes from this concept. Verbatim translation means, ‘Ayaz came out’ or ‘Ayaz appeared.’ Ayaz means “such cold weather that it burns” in any region where Turkish people live, even today. Central Asia, where this culture emanated from, is vast with extreme weather conditions (20). However, we see the use of the expression ‘Ayaz’ in contemporary Turkish spoken today in Turkiye. In Altay Turkish, Ayas also means open skies, referring to the fact that open skies are the harbinger of freezing days coming the next day.

Ayaz Ata (21) is the Forefather of the Cold, blowing cold weather and is comfortable living in the most frigid weather. Therefore, Ayaz Ata can also be translated as ‘Cold Father or Frost Father.’ Şaxta (Shahta) Baba is like Ayaz Ata, and means the ‘Cold Father or Frost Father,’ in the Azerbaycan (Azerbaijan) and Özbek (Uzbek or Ozbek) Turkish. Ayaz Ata is also like the Ded Moroz in Russian culture. These characters wear blue, representing cold, and not red, like Santa Claus. The color of robes is different from those worn by Erlik during Nardugan, i.e., red ‘caftan’ (22).

Ayaz Ata belongs to a group of characters with divine powers such as the ability to turn barren women into childbearing, name children, provide abundance to farmers, and help and show the right way to those in need.[8] (23). Erlik doesn’t possess any of these abilities, either. Erlik is a person that turned evil out of jealosy and spite after creation. Erlik may have demigod powers but is rather an evil character, that is ‘nice’ only during Nardugan. This is another difference.

These characters appear alive in stories and daily life, preserving and extending cultural life. For example, E Kaymak has investigated the novels of Cengiz Aytmatov and described Ayaz Ata’s role in the Kırgız society (24). Cengiz Aytmatov mentions Ayaz Ata, decorating the Tree for Nardugan Eve celebrations, organizing entertainment on New Year’s Eve, and providing a solution to a conflict among children.[9]. In this novel, Ayaz Ata is a parallel figure to the figures in the Western world, such as Father Christmas, Santa Claus, or Father Noelle. Ayaz Ata has become unified with Santa Claus in Kazak culture.

Ayaz Ata is considered a saint that appears in the cold and helps those in need, giving gifts to children. Kazaks also celebrate another celebration with the incoming winter, called Soğumbaşı (Sogumbasi with English letters) (25), observed among those occupied with horse and animal husbandry.[10]. The celebration of Nardugan, or the New Year, may have merged with Soğumbaşı in rural areas (2) (26).

Erlik and Ülgen are characters from a culture not so different from that of Ayaz Ata, but there are some differences. It could be that Ülgen, which accepts all wishes during Nardugan, may have transformed into Ayaz Ata, or simply, the characters, Erlik and Ülgen, belong to a different cultural mythology in an other region than Ayaz Ata. Any claim of connection begs for more investigation (27).

Finally, the ‘tree’ plays a vital role in Nardugan.

The Tree of Life – Beyterek (Bayterek) and Temir Kazık

The tree of life is the legendary holy pillar or sacred tree that connects the Earth and the Sky, forming a sacred bond, vehicle, or conduit from the inner sanctum of the Earth to the divine skies. Goddesses descend from it. Heroes tie their horses to the earthly part, Erlik to the underground portion, and Ülgen to the heavenly part. Beyterek can be the only vehicle to connect Earth to divinity (28). This tree, Beyterek, consists of three parts.

  1. Altanterek (Altındirek); part in the sky
  2. Temürterek (Demirdirek); part on Earth
  3. Pakırterek (Bakırdirek); part in the ground.

Temir Kazik (Temir Kazık or Demir Kazık – Iron Stake) is the north star, and Beyterek is the pathway from the Earth connected to the north star. Temir Kazik is verbatim ‘iron stake.’ In the yurts or houses made by Turkish tribes in vast Central Asia, there is usually a hole in the very middle of the yurt, held up with a substantial stake, connecting the yurt from the ground to the tent and structure. Gazing from the floor up at the smoke hole, stars in the night sky should be visible. This view may have created the metaphor of the Temir Kazık, which may appear to be the brightest star in the Sky (29).

Ancient Turks must have used trees in their surroundings for yurts and rites. The first Turkish people are thought to live in Siberian Taigas (forests) or in areas where there are different types of large trees from Siberia to Eastern Hungary and north of the Black Sea, which are vast forests of coned pines live extending to the Sky. Especially northern forests are covered by snow for months (27). This may explain why a pine tree is sought after to represent the tree of life for Narduganç. Whatever the motivations of the Turks were, the tree used for the Nardugan celebration became a divine vehicle (30). Traces of the tree of life appear in the handicrafts and cultural heritage of Turkish tribes from earlier times, such as the Huns, the Köktürk (Göktürk), the Karakoyunlu, and even during the Ottoman Times. For example, the Divriği Holy Mosque (Ulu Cami) carries the tree of life carved on its side wall (31). Another depiction of the tree of life is on the border of Sivas-Gökmedrese, a medrese from the Selçuk times (32).

This tree concept may have similarities to other cultures’ trees of life. Different cultures also see holy trees as the ‘axis mundi,’ like the Temir Kazik. For example, the Yggdrasil, the mythological tree of the Scandinavian culture, is a good example. The tree of life, depicted as a tree coming from the depths of the Earth to the skies as ‘axis mundi’ (Earth’s axis), also is a belief in the Sumerians. The Sky God (Dengir for Sumerians, Tengri or Tengere, as well as Ülgen for Turks) lives on the highest end of the tree in both Sumerian and Turkish mythologies. Sumerians, Assyrians, Phrygians, and the Hittites share the cultural perspectives of the cult of the Tree of Life with similar connotations to that of Turkish culture (33). Torah mentions the tree of life and knowledge (34), and the menorah may be a symbol of it (35). A link may exist between the tree of life in Turkish culture and the Jewish culture because of Hazars, Turkish tribes that accepted Judaism (36). There is also a relationship between holy trees in Native Americans (the Anasazi) and the tree of life in Turkish culture. The arch/Juniperus and Akça Kayın(Akcha Kayin)/Birch in Kırgızistan and Native American culture are sacred (37). We know that the Turks used to plant birch trees as part of their religious rites (17). Yakuts also have a similar tree cult (i.e., the Aal Luuk Mas) (38). The Udmurts living in North Bashkurdistan put a piece of bread into a bowl and set it on fir in the winter (replaced by birch in the spring) in a winter solstice celebration (4).

In conclusion, Nardugan is a celebration that unites Turkish people during the winter solstice, connecting with many cultures and religions in unexpected and surprising ways. I would also like to add interviews with Muazzez İlmiye Çığ, who also wrote a book about Nardugan, Çam Bayramı (Pine Fest).

Happy Nardugan!

Muazzez İlmiye Çığ and Nardugan

The information given by the esteemed Muazzez İlmiye Çığ about Nardugan sheds light on the origin of this holiday. She informs,

In ancient Turkish culture, the new year is celebrated as December 21. Even before Christ, the new year culture was seen, and celebrations were held. On this night, symbolizing the old Sun, it becomes smaller as the days are shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and it dies on December 22, the winter solstice. It is said to be defeated by dark and evil powers. On December 23, the dying Sun is reborn and becomes the new Sun, hence, Nardugan. The December 22 Full Moon is the messenger of the new Sun rising the following day. Turks celebrate this day by ornaments a pine tree representing the tree of life. Tying on a holy tree red ribbons or any adornment, or pieces of clothes is a practice not only for decoration but also an old tradition of making a wish from Ülgen because all wishes are believed to come true during Nardugan (39).’

World-renowned sumerologist Muazzez İlmiye Çığ said that the Nardugan tradition is unique to the Turks, noting that it is celebrated as the ‘Pine Festival’ in the Central Asian Turkish community (40).

I received a letter from Azerbaijan.[11]; That Christmas is Turkish. I also researched it. Nardugan, the feast on December 21, where the day beats the night, is from the Central Asian Turks. They write their good wishes, wants, and expectations for the New Year on ribbons, and tie to tree branches. In Anatolia, they send pine branches to some weddings as a gift. Akçam is the holy tree of life in the ancient Turks’ center of the world. There are Anatolian carpet and kilim patterns. In Nardugan, people used to clean their houses and put on their best clothes. They used to dance and sing around the tree; visit their elders. I wrote a book about the Nardugan Festival.

She also stated in another interview (41)

‘Nar-Dugan, the feast on December 21, where the day beats the night, comes from the Central Asian Turks. In this celebration, people write their wishes, wants, and expectations for the new year on the ribbons they hang on the branches of the holy (white) maple (Akçam). The first universal Christian council, gathered in Iznik in 325, takes the pine tree in Anatolia and brings it to today’s celebrations. Akçam is the sacred tree of life in the ancient Turks’ center of the world. Anatolian carpets and kilim patterns depict Akçam. In Nardugan, people clean their houses and put on their best clothes. They dance and sing around the tree; the elders are visited. Families would get together and eat special meals. Ülgen, the protector of humanity, had a long beard and a cape.

Later, Christians converted Nardugan into today’s Christmas belief by the consul of Nicaea. Pine trees do not grow in the land where Jesus lived (for example, Nazareth or Jerusalem). The Christians took Nardugan with the passage of the Turks to Europe. A few centuries later, Christians chose the date of December 25 for the birth of Jesus, who was born in autumn.’


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36 KARATAY, O. Hazarlar Yahudi Turkler Turk Yahudiler ve Otekiler. 1. ed. Istanbul: Kripto, v. 1, 2014.

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[1] These resources are cited with links provided for objective and scientific exchange.

[2] Nar means pomegranate in Turkish. Nar is a holy fruit used in cultural decorations throughout the ages. Kifayet Özkul presented an article at the 5th International Conference on History and Culture on August 17, 2021 in Ankara – Turkey, called ‘Anadolu’da Nar Motifi ve Yeni Tasarım Uygulamları’ (44)

[3] Mongolian is a language borrowed from Turkish, Tatar, and Tunguz. The word ‘sun’ means Sun in Tunguz and Sumerian.

[4] (or it may mean red like a pomegranate because nar means pomegranate in contemporary Turkish)

[5] From an Altay folk poem describing Erlik: ‘The black steed he rides. The mattress of black beaver skin (He sleeps on). (He is so big) The belt is not enough (for his belly?). (He is so big) a hug is not enough. His (eye?) lid is one (big) span—black beard with a black mustache. His face looked red with blood. Bright-haired Bay Erlik. His home is made of human chests (The description depicts a horrible Picture where Erlik is living in a house made of chests of people. This is also a metaphor that an evil soul like Erlik lives in chests. Erlik represents the devil, and evil thoughts and desires without reason live in the chests/hearts of people). His goblet is made of a dried skull (as horrible as it sounds, there is a metaphor here that a person with a dried skull is not so intelligent because they don’t have a brain and, therefore, makes poor choices). His sword is made of green iron (green iron is another word for steel when in those days, steel swords like the infamous Ufreth sword of the Nordic people were rare and made in steel, overbearing regular iron swords). Shoulder bones of flat iron (a description of his strength). The face of pitch black (a description that he lives in the deep enthralls of the Earth).

[6] Türkün gözü aldadır.

[7] Ayaz also means clear and enlightenedç

[8] Some other fictional characters are; Ak-Koca, Kök-Koca, Ak Sakallı Gök Koca, Altın Sakallı Ay Koca, Muz Ata, and Ak Sarıklı.

[9] ‘A society uses the backlog from its past in its daily relationships. If these values do not conflict with scientific knowledge, they are seen as the values that keep that society alive. In the relevant work, many features of the social life of the Kyrgyz culture are introduced. It is thought that Aitmatov wanted these values ​​not to be forgotten by processing them in his work. The detected values are: Giving the name Aksakal to Kazangap, who knows good manners, Decorating the tree on New Year’s Eve, Mentioning Ayaz Ata, Organizing entertainment on New Year’s Eve, While the gifts of Ayaz Ata are being transported, the children conflict with themselves. In the solution found, the older child should carry the presents first.  Yedigey respects Kazangap’s wife, Bikey, for having an older and more mature personality.

[10] Kazakhs have an entertainment called sogumbasi, related to the welcome of winter. It is a holiday celebrated with the first snowfall and the first cold. Winter is a difficult season for those who make a living from animal husbandry. To protect their animals from the harsh frost of winter, they first perform a special sacrifice ceremony for the owners of the winter, the hunchbacked and shaky older woman and her sons Akpan, Tokpan, and Ez Efendi, the owner of the frost. The villagers invite each other to be guests by saying, “the head of the cold – the nation vaccine.” On this long night of winter, folk songs, different songs, and tales were told by the bards. The folk poets compete in ‘word arguments’ in titles such as “Wolf and shepherd bickering,” “Shepherd and sheep bickering,” and “Dog and Wolf bickering.” Bickering is a dialogue of witty arguments with jokes for fun. Sogumbasi takes about one month. (translated from

[11] The information about the Nar-Dugan feast is based on the writings of Adnan Atabek from Azerbaijan and Aref Esmail Esmailin from Iran, Azerbaijan, and more importantly, the “Pine Festival” section in the “Kipchaks” book. For more details, please visit