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S Sargis Feast Day

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St. Sargis Day is celebrated 63 days before Easter, on a Saturday falling sometime between Jan. 18 and Feb. 23. Marking the feast day of St. Sargis, the patron saint of young love, unmarried Armenian women eat a piece of salty bread, ideally after fasting all day, in the hope of dreaming about their future husband. Tradition says the man who brings them water in the dream will be the man they marry.

These types of marriage traditions are prevalent in other cultures in different forms. Assyrians, for example, celebrate a variation of St.Sargis, where the dreams of unmarried women are believed to be prophetic.

Popular and widely anticipated in Armenia and Middle Eastern countries, where life was austere and people looked for reasons to celebrate, the tradition is being kept alive in communities throughout Southern California and the United States.

"It's a celebration of the continuity of Armenian life and Armenian traditions," said Richard Hovannisian, chairman of Armenian history at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"They were maintained pretty strongly down through the centuries, even though now they wane in the secular society and in the rapid pace of life here."

Although St. Sargis is said to visit the dreams of both sexes, the tradition is more popular among girls and women. And most Armenian women either have a story to tell about their own St. Sargis dream or know someone with a story.

Hrachik Hovanessian, 81 by the year 2005, could still envision the dream she had when she was 16. "My girlfriends were standing by a stream and called me over. From far away I saw a man approaching who was tall and thin, wearing light-colored clothes, a coffee-colored shirt and tie," she recalled. "A few months later, a man visited our home to meet me, and I was startled when I saw him because I immediately knew he was the man in my dreams." The two wed less than a year later, and were married 61 years, until his death in 2002.

And her granddaughter Helena Gregorian, 31, from Sherman Oaks, also was going to taste St. Sargis' bread for the first time. "It's passing down a tradition. Though you know it's not really true and it's like folklore, you kind of do it to keep it going so you don't forget where you came from," she said. "It's almost like when you have somebody read your coffee cup. Do you really believe it? You never know, but you keep an open mind to the possibilities."

Helena Gregorian's paternal grandmother, Valik Khodaverdian, 80 by the year 2005, baked the salty bread for her three single granddaughters and their friends, hoping it will reveal for them the man of their dreams.

"Have an open mind and open heart when you go to sleep," she cautioned. "Don't go to bed thinking you'll dream of your husband."

When girls wake up the following morning, they share their dreams with their mothers and grandmothers, and the experience becomes a bonding one, tying the generations together.

If a man does not appear, single women should not be discouraged, the elderly Armenian women advise: Dreams are open to interpretation and everybody can glean meaning out of what they see.

Newlywed Maral Sultanian, 29 by the year 2005, had the dream four years ago before she met her future husband. She saw herself as a little girl at her old elementary school pouring water into a big bowl from the water fountain. "The bowl was overflowing, like, wow, does this mean there is going to be a cornucopia of men to choose from? I immediately saw it as I would have many suitors to choose from," Sultanian said. "I found someone who nurtures me and brings me water in real life, not in a dream. It was a dream come true in this case."