Back to category Published: 11 october 2019 Author: Manager

Culture and Traditions in Kazakhstan


Kazakhstan is a diverse country with a rich cultural heritage. Its vast territory has been home to numerous ethnic groups, each with their own unique traditions and customs. Over time, these various cultures have blended together to create a distinct Kazakh culture that is celebrated and cherished by its people.

Despite the blending of cultures, the people of Kazakhstan have worked hard to preserve their unique cultural traditions. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation and are widely observed across the country. While there are too many traditions to list them all, we will highlight some of the most important and widely observed ones.

Guest reception traditions

One of the most significant traditions in Kazakhstan is hospitality. Kazakhs are known for their warm and welcoming nature, and visitors are treated with great respect and generosity. Guests are offered food and drink as a sign of hospitality and are often given gifts as a token of appreciation.

The tradition of showing hospitality to guests has been a part of Kazakh culture since ancient times. It was common practice to welcome travelers and guests with open arms and offer them the most delicious food. This tradition has roots in the nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakh ancestors, where staying in unfamiliar households was a common occurrence. The custom is known as konaqasy.

When a guest is invited to a yurt (a traditional dwelling), they are seated in the honored place, known as tor, which is located opposite the entrance. The hosts immediately serve a selection of light treats from Kazakh cuisine, including drinks like kumys, shubat, ayran, or tea with milk. Fresh baursaks, flatbreads, kurt, and irimshik are also placed on the table. Appetizers made from horsemeat or lamb, such as zhaya, qazy, and shuzhyk, are also served. 

In honor of the guest's arrival, hosts often cut a lamb and prepare several dishes with it at once. This includes the pre-course dish, kuyrdak, made of lungs, liver, and kidneys, as well as the main dish of Kazakh cuisine, beshbarmak. Boiled meat is presented in large pieces on a tray, and the host slices the meat himself, offering each guest a portion. This cutting is a traditional practice, with specific cuts reserved for certain individuals. For example, pelvic bones and shin are intended for the elderly, brisket for son-in-law or daughter-in-law, and cervical vertebrae for girls. The most honored guest is presented with the specially prepared head of a ram. The meat is served with a rich broth in bowls.

Another tradition associated with the reception of guests is known as konaqkade. After the meal, the host may invite the guest to perform a song or play a musical instrument. In response, the guest typically performs an improvisation that expresses gratitude to the hosts for their warm welcome.

Important guests are given special treatment in Kazakh culture. There is a ritual known as at mingizip shapan zhabu, which involves welcoming a distinguished guest to a Kazakh household. The guest is presented with a horse and an expensive chapan, which is an embroidered robe made of camel wool with a chintz lining. This is a way of showing respect and honor to the guest.

In Kazakh culture, it was customary to present important guests with valuable gifts, such as a horse, a sable fur coat, a camel, a Persian carpet, or a sword. The most valuable possessions in the household were often given as a sign of respect and honor to the guest. This tradition is known as bes zhaqsy, or the «five valuable things». Although this custom is not as commonly practiced nowadays, it still holds strong in some villages in Kazakhstan.

One interesting tradition that has been preserved since ancient times is the practice of yerulik, which involves acquainting new members of a community with their neighbors. When new residents move into a village, they are invited to dinner or lunch with their closest neighbors. This helps people get acquainted and newcomers can integrate more easily into the society. This tradition is still alive in many Kazakh families today, whether they live in a traditional aul (village) or a modern apartment building.

There are some other interesting traditions related to hospitality:

  • Toqymqagar or the farewell ceremony. This usually happens if someone from the family is departing for a long time. A ram is cut and a toy-dastarkhan (festive table) is arranged. Seer-offs say various wishes for those going on a long journey.
  • Tize Bugu. Guests show respect for the owner and their house by kneeling upon entering. Failing to observe this rite was considered insulting and disrespectful.
  • Toy-Dastarkhan is a festive table. In addition to a feast, toy-dastarkhan may include music performances, song contests (aitys), races, and other games.
  • Shashu is a ritual practiced during various celebratory occasions such as the arrival of esteemed guests, weddings, and matchmakings. During this ritual, the hosts shower the guests with sweets and coins, and children often collect the scattered treats and money. Kazakh tradition holds that the sweets picked up during Shashu bring good luck.
  • Suyunshi is a custom to give valuable gifts to those who bring good news.
  • Baigazy is a tradition to give a small gift to those who bought a new thing.
  • Sarqyt is a tradition in which guests are given the remaining food from the dastarkhan to take with them when they depart.
  • Tugan zherge aunatu is a custom in which a person who has been away from their homeland for an extended period of time is welcomed back by being rolled on the ground upon their return.
  • Belkoterer is a tradition of preparing special meals for the elderly. Soft, tasty dishes such as jent, kumys, irimshik (cottage cheese), and others are specially prepared for them. It is the responsibility of their children or close relatives, and less commonly their neighbors, to provide these meals and care for the elderly.


Wedding traditions

The Kazakh wedding is a significant and grandiose event, much like in any other country. However, it is not merely a holiday for the newlyweds, their parents, close relatives, and friends, but also a union of two kinship ties, which makes it unique. Therefore, the Kazakh wedding involves a plethora of rituals and traditions that are strictly observed.

In the past, the proposal was made by the young man through his brother's wife, and the bride was not allowed to see her future husband until the wedding day. Even if the bride did not like the groom, she had no right to disobey her parents' decision about her fate.

Today, things have changed, and Kazakh guys and girls meet and get to know each other in various ways, such as on the street, in cafes, or through social media. However, wedding rites are still important and are carried out during the marriage and wedding ceremony.

As before, matchmakers (kudalar) come to the girl's house with gifts. The ring is given to the bride by his brother's wife, not by the groom himself. The wedding day was previously appointed by the elders of the family, but today the date of the wedding is discussed together with the newlyweds. During matchmaking, kudalar usually exchange expensive gifts.

The practice of paying a bride price, known as kalym, is still observed in many rural families where traditional customs hold significant importance. Although the groom's parents do not always foot the bill, they try to honor the tradition by presenting the bride's family with valuable items such as cattle, expensive fabrics, and jewelry. According to tradition, the groom can only visit the bride and her parents in their home after the payment of the bride price.

Once all the necessary procedures and matchmaking have been completed, the bride's father chooses the day for his beloved daughter's departure, known as kyz uzatu, and provides clothing to all of the groom's relatives.

The wedding itself is a grand celebration that usually includes all the relatives of the bride and groom. A specially invited akyn performs traditional Kazakh wedding songs, and various competitions, dances, and fun activities are held. After the wedding, the newlyweds retire to their wedding tent.

Some other wedding traditions:

  • Qudalyq refers to the traditional matchmaking process in which the groom's parents, along with the close relatives of the bride, come together to arrange the marriage.
  • Bethashar – a tradition of revealing the bride's face at the wedding. Of course, nowadays, the bride and the groom know each other well before the wedding but the tradition still lives.
  • Syrga salu is a symbolic ceremony in which the mother of the groom puts earrings on the bride, signifying the completion of the marriage contract between the two families.
  • Qyz uzatu is a traditional farewell ceremony that marks the bride's departure from her parents' home to her new home with the groom's family.
  • Qursaq toy is a custom in which the groom's family hosts a celebration upon receiving news of the bride's pregnancy.
  • Bride theft is a traditional practice where a man would kidnap a girl he liked and take her to his village, after which all other marriage rituals would be performed. However, today, this practice is only considered acceptable with the consent of the girl. Without her consent, it is considered a criminal offense.

Customs related to children

Tusau kesu (cutting the ties)

Many Kazakh customs are centered around children, as they are considered the most valuable treasure in Kazakh families. The growth and upbringing of children are associated with numerous rituals and traditions, such as laying in the cradle, naming, and one of the most significant customs for a child – tusau kesu or cutting the ties. This ceremony is held when the child takes his or her first steps.

During Tusau Kesu, a child's legs are tied with a thin, colorful cord, which is cut by an energetic man with many children, a respected aksakal (elderly man), or an important guest. The cord used to tie the legs of the baby traditionally consists of black and white threads, representing the black and white stripes of life, as the kid must learn to overcome difficulties.

The ritual is accompanied by songs and wishes (bata), so that the child stands firmly on their feet and confidently walks through life. After the ties are cut, a feast usually follows, with contests, songs, and music competitions. In the past, after tusau kesu, a child would receive a horse and saddle, but nowadays, they are more likely to receive expensive gifts or money instead.

Sundet-toy (circumcision)

Sundet, or rite of circumcision, is a significant tradition that has been preserved and is often observed in Kazakh families. This custom originated with the arrival of Islam in the Great Steppe and remains one of the most important family traditions.

Sundet is typically performed when a boy turns 3, 5 or 7 years old. On the day of the ceremony, the boy is dressed in beautiful national clothes and put on horseback. Colorful ribbons are woven into the horse's mane, and a bag of treats is tied to the saddle. The boy rides up to relatives one by one and treats them with food from the bag. Once all the gifts and treats are given out, the boy goes to a separate yurt or room with a mullah (and nowadays, a surgeon), where he undergoes circumcision.

Following the circumcision, parents organize a grand celebration called sundet toy, where everyone gives the child money or valuable gifts. This celebration marks the boy's transition into manhood and is a significant moment for the family.

Other traditions and customs related to the upbringing of a child

  • Shildehana – birthday party for the baby.
  • Besikke salu, also known as besik toy, is the practice of placing a newborn baby in a cradle. Typically, this ceremony is held 3-5 days after the umbilical cord falls off the baby. Prior to this, the newborn sleeps with their mother.
  • Yesim qoyu or at qoyu. A ceremony of naming the child. A respected person usually gives the name of the child.
  • Qyrqynan shygaru. This ceremony is performed on the fortieth day after the child is born. The child is bathed in 40 spoons of water, hair and nails are cut for the first time
  • Auzyna tukirtu is a traditional Kazakh ritual that translates to «spitting in the mouth». According to Kazakh beliefs, when a respected person spits into the mouth of a child, the child will receive a piece of that person's talent.
  • Ashamayga mingizu is a tradition of giving a horse and a kamcha (whip) to a 6-7-year-old boy. This ceremony marks the boy's proclamation as a jigit (a young man). During this event, the child receives blessings from the elders, and the parents usually arrange a small celebration in honor of their son.



Aitys is an essential part of any Kazakh holiday program. It is a poetic-musical competition where Kazakh singers-improvisers participate.

During aitys, the performers sit or stand in front of each other and engage in a song dialogue, passing the word to each other and continuing the theme started by the opponent. Aitys can be held on any arbitrary theme. The winner is chosen based on the competition's results, with a jury consisting of distinguished people or guests of the festival who evaluate not only the musicality and performing talent but also the skill in parrying the arguments of the opponent, humor, and ingenuity.

Aitys is somewhat similar to modern rap battles, with a similar performance order and evaluation of participants. While several akyns (singers) can participate in aitys, paired performances are more traditional. Aitys is often held between a man and a woman. For instance, in 1946, Kazakh composer Mukan Tulebayev wrote the opera «Birzhan and Sarah» based on aitys between famous akyns of the XIX century Birzhan-sal and Sarah Tastanbekkyzy.

Nauryz Holiday

Nauryz is a wonderful tradition that dates back to the ancient pre-Islamic times of the history of the Kazakh people. It is a holiday that celebrates spring, the renewal of nature, the beginning of a new year, and new life. According to Tengrian beliefs, Nauryz is considered the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated on March 22, on the day of the vernal equinox.

Nauryz consists of many small rituals and customs. The holiday begins at dawn, when all the inhabitants of the village or aul come out together to plant trees under the guidance of aksakals. After the trees are planted, everyone gathers for the celebration. People have fun, congratulate each other on New Year's Eve, and wish each other peace, prosperity, richness, and happiness. Songs composed especially for this holiday, called Nauryz Zhyr, are performed. Sports competitions, such as kures (wrestling) and baiga (horse races), are held. Often in the middle of the village, there are big swings for children and youth. There are also intellectual contests for solving poetic riddles and contests in short sayings.

After the holiday, each family in each house sets a festive table. The meal is usually held at noon. Before and after the meal, the invited mullah reads prayers in honor of the ancestors. At the end of the meal, the eldest of those present gives a blessing (bata) to keep the family intact year after year. In this ritual, we can see the fusion of pagan and Muslim traditions.

During the Nauryz holiday, the number seven was considered significant as it represents the seven days of the week, which is the unit of time of universal eternity. As part of the tradition, seven bowls of a special festive drink called Nauryz-kozhe, prepared from seven types of cereals, were placed before the aksakals. The dastarkhan, the traditional Kazakh table, also had seven different treats.

The Nauryz celebration typically ended with an aitys. The competition continued until sunset, which was believed to be the moment when good conquered evil. Afterward, a fire was lit, and people with torches lit from it danced and sang as they went around all the neighborhoods of the village, completing the holiday of spring renewal and equinox.

Traditional Kazakh games and entertainment: 

  • Kazakh traditional hunting with a golden eagle. The golden eagle has been used since ancient times for hunting hares, corsacs, foxes, etc. Trained berkutchi hunters are engaged in the breeding and training of hunting birds.
  • Kazakh traditional hunting with tazy. Kazakh tazy is an ancient breed of hunting hounds, belonging to the intangible heritage of UNESCO. With Tazy, Kazakhs hunt small game and steppe antelopes.
  • Kures is Kazakh wrestling. Competitions are usually held during festivals. Other peoples of Central Asia also have analogies to this sport.
  • Toguz Qumalaq. is a table game that is based on the number 9. It appears to be a simple game, but it is actually a complex logical game that is often referred to as the «algebra of shepherds». This game was a popular pastime among nomads and was used to brighten up their leisure time.
  • Asyq is a children's street game, which has now become the national sport in Kazakhstan. The country even holds Asyq tournaments.
  • Bastangy is a kind of party for young people, which was usually held after parents' departure.

Read more about national games and sports in this article.

Helping neighbors and the community

  • Asar is a Kazakh tradition of helping someone with the whole family or generation, or even the entire village. This may involve building a house or cattle sheds, among other things. At the end of the work, a dastarkhan is held for the helpers.
  • Zhylu is a similar tradition to Asar. In this case, people come together to help those who have suffered from natural disasters, such as fires or floods. Anyone, regardless of their status or tribe, can help the victims to the best of their ability. Donations can include cattle, building materials, clothes, money, and labor.


Indeed, experiencing the traditions and customs firsthand is the best way to truly appreciate and understand their significance. Kazakhstan is a country with a rich cultural heritage, and its festivals and holidays provide a unique opportunity to witness and participate in age-old customs and practices. From the vibrant colors and music of the traditional costumes and instruments to the warm hospitality and delicious food, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether it's attending a lively aitys competition, planting trees during Nauryz, or simply enjoying the festive atmosphere, a trip to Kazakhstan during its traditional holidays is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

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