Novruz – celebrating the Zoroastrian New Year

Novruz (translation from Persian language: New Day) is celebration of the first day of the year, according to the Persian calendar, and the coming of Spring. This secular festivity derived from the Zoroastrian heritage (fire worshippers) is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21, and is preceded by weeks of traditional preparations. In old days the holiday marked the first day of calendrical year but after Azerbaijan came under the Soviet rule New Year’s Day was introduced as January 1, and Novruz celebrations were prohibited. However, after the fall of the USSR the new government put it back in the calendar and today Novruz is the most important holiday celebrated in the country. Apart from Azerbaijan, the traditions of Nowruz are also strong among people in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan and Turkey.

Traditions of Novruz

In this section we include just a few of the most important Novruz customs. For more detailed information please click on the links below.

news.az

Novruz table. Image by: news.az

Symbols of Spring

Typical Novruz table is prepared with various items including: candles, fresh flowers, nuts, sweets, local pastries, dried fruits, dyed eggs, and the samani, a newly sprouted wheat. Samani symbolizes the beginning of new life, prosperity and abundance. Almost every family grows one but you can also buy them in bazar. To ensure that samani is ready for Novruz, it should be sown about 2 weeks in advance.  

Cleansing and rebirth

Novruz is also a good time to buy new clothes or clean the house and the garden. Many treat it as well as an opportunity to renew relationships. People who have had quarrels and refused to speak with each other often choose this occasion to forgive one another.

tree pruning

Tree pruning.  Source: Saturday Evening Post

Family and friends

In anticipation of Novruz, people prepare lots of food and sweets and visit each other at home. There is a certain hierarchy related to the visits –  the oldest members of the community receive guests first. In addition, gifts and food are shared with the needy, poor, and sick (Source: Azerbaijan International). On the eve of Novruz, many Azerbaijani people visit the cemetery where their parents are buried.

Children

Another important custom related to Novruz is the Halloween-like candy hunting. Children go around their neighbors’ homes, knock at their doors, and leave their cups or little baskets while hiding, waiting for treats.

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Source: az-dc.blogspot.com

Jumping over bonfires

Chahar Shanbe Suri or jumping over bonfires is celebrated on the night of the last Wednesday of the old year. During this night people traditionally gather and light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames shouting ”Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man”, which in Persian means ”May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine”. With this phrase, the flames symbolically take away all of the unpleasant things that happened in the past year. Nowadays, due to safety issues, many people simply light the bonfire in the street and shout the special phrase without getting too close to the flames (Source: Celebrating Novruz. Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Harvard University).

Useful links:

Celebrating Nowruz. A Resource for Educators. The Outreach Center. Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Harvard University

Novruz. Celebration that would not die. Azerbaijan International.

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