Spring is in the air. From Japan’s cherry blossom festival to India’s bright Holi celebrations, cultures around the world have age-old rituals to usher in the season.
What is Nowruz?
It is a day that marks the New Year across parts of the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Asia. It can be spelled Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz or Nevruz depending on the region.
In Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, the vernal equinox marks the beginning of Nowruz (Navruz), a two-week long festival that is the bedrock of ancient Persian culture.
Meaning ‘new day’ in Farsi, Nowruz marks the beginning of the year 1396 in the Persian calendar, symbolically leaving the hardships of winter behind and honoring the rebirth of nature.
Here’s what to know about the celebrations.
Nowruz is not an Islamic holiday.
The origins of Nowruz are so ancient, it predates Islam and Christianity. This approximately 3,000-year-old holiday can be traced back to Zoroastrian, one of the world’s first monotheistic religions that was once the official religion of Persia. In 2009, UNESCO inscribed Nowruz on its list of unique Intangible Cultural Heritage, recognizing the importance of preserving the social practices, rituals, and festive events.
Celebrations cross borders, religions, and cultures.
More than 300 million people around the world observe Nowruz. According to Omid Safi, director of Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, Nowruz happens “almost everywhere that Persianate culture—much broader than the modern country of Iran—has touched.” Observers fan out across the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, the Caucasus, and the United States. Each culture recognizes the holiday as one of renewal, though festivities may differ slightly from place to place.
Spring cleaning becomes spiritual.
People start preparing for the festivities weeks in advance with khaneh tekani, which literally means “shaking down the house” in Persian. Rugs are washed, walls get a fresh coat of paint, and closets are sorted, but this is much more than a deep spring cleaning. Cleanliness keeps evil away, so people can bring fresh, new energy into their new year.
Jumping over fires gets the party started.
On the last Tuesday of the year in the Persian calendar, many people participate in fire-jumping rituals, or Chaharshanbe Suri. Fire holds significant meaning in Zoroastrianism, representing God’s wisdom. Jumping over the fire is a way to rid yourself of any bad luck from the previous chapter to start the new year with a fresh slate.
Seven is the lucky number.
The “Haft-Seen” (Seven S’s) is at the heart of Nowruz traditions. This tabletop arrangement displays seven symbolic objects, all beginning with the letter S in Persian. A typical spread could include sabzeh, a type of wheat, barley or lentil sprouts, to symbolize rebirth; samanu, a sweet type of pudding, representing affluence; senjed, a Persian olive, for love; seer, or garlic, for good health; seeb, or apples, which represents beauty; sumac fruit for beautiful sunrises; and serkeh, or vinegar, to promise patience.
Central to the table is a highly symbolic dish know as sumalak. This sweet pudding, made from sprouted wheat, is prepared in a big pot the night before Navruz. People dance and sing together while making the dish.
Sumalak, which should be ready before the sun rises on the first day of the holiday, is distributed among neighbours, relatives and friends. Before eating it, one must make a wish, which according to tradition will come true during the coming year.
Celebrations in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has its own Navruz traditions. From ancient times, the holiday was celebrated in agricultural oases with festivals, bazaars, horse racing, and dog and cock fights. Today, Uzbeks still serve a traditional meal of “sumalyak,” which tastes like molasses-flavored cream of wheat and is made from flour and sprouted wheat grains. Sumalyak is cooked slowly on a wood fire, sometimes with the addition of spices. Sprouted grain is a symbol of life, heat, abundance, and health.
In Uzbekistan, these rules also vary from one city to another. Navruz is a name for eating food and exhibiting colorful cloths in Samarkand. Traditionally, youth in the mahallah (neighborhood), participate in preparing traditional dishes for this event, especially Sumalak.
Sumalak is a dish that requires a lot of skill and preliminary preparations. Germinating wheat needs not only experience but also lots of patience. Every morning before it reaches 2.5 centimeters, the wheat needs to be washed and spread out on a flat, raised surface and covered with gauze. This work is usually done by women and accompanied with prayers.
After the wheat is germinated, it must be ground and washed; after the third washing the wheat is ready for cooking in a huge pot, like those used for wedding cooking in India and Pakistan.
At the bottom of the pot, the cook allocates 20 clean stones and walnuts to avoid clumps.
Later, the stones will be removed, though only after the dish is ready. Before that it boils for at least 12 hours and attracts all the neighbors for making wishes. Sumalak is usually cooked at night, and it makes the holiday even more charming and mysterious. Everyone enjoys folk songs and rousing dances while the sumulak is cooking.
After the Sumalak is ready, it needs to “sleep,” covered and hidden from everybody’s eyes for at least two hours. Then, around 9 o’clock in the morning, it “wakes up” and, accompanied with songs, visits neighbors, relatives, and friends together with lavz halvoi (halva) and other treats. It is interesting to note that in some regions it can be also accompanied with decorated eggs like the Christian Easter tradition.
Halisa is another “must do” for Nowruz. Halisa is similar to Haeem of Indo-Pak but a little harder than Haleem. It is cooked with 1:3 proportions (ratio), e.g., 10 kilograms of wheat to 30 kilograms of meat completely separated from the bones. Like sumalak, Halisa is cooked in a huge pot for 12 hours, which makes its taste very special.
The Nowruz table is very rich and not limited to sumalak and halisa, although these are substantial and seem enough to feed several mahallas in the city. Families also cook samsa, barak beirok (a kind of fried ravioli), pirojki filled with potatoes, and the most important bichak – savory pastries filled with green vegetables. It is very symbolic: in spring nature wakes, trees start blooming, and fresh greens seduce us with their wonderful aroma at Siyob Bozori, Samarkand’s fruit and vegetable market.
Since Samarkand is known for food eating, therefore the Navruz table needs more to be filled – yes, more. Tugrama palov with raisins, chickpeas, excellent meat, and quail eggs are part of the Navruz table.
Samarkandi cannot eat so much meat and plov unless they are sure that they will be served with desserts after heavy meals. This means also on the table will be Shordonak (salted apricot stones), Parvarda (a traditional type of candy), lavz halvoi, halvoi ruhonim, raisins, dried apricots, and of course green tea.
Celebrations in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan’s main Nowruz celebration venue was the area in front of the center for mass cultural events “Türkmeniň ak öýi” in the city of Mary on March 21, reported the press service of the Turkmen president.
Chairman of the Parliament of Turkmenistan, Ministers and heads of diplomatic missions, media, international organizations’ representatives and others took part in the celebrations.
Festive events took place in all the administrative centers of the regions and the city of Ashgabad.
Celebrations in Kyrgyzstan
On March 21, Kazakh and Kyrgyz households fumigate their homes with smoke from the burning of archa twigs (a coniferous tree of Central Asia that grows mainly in mountainous areas). This smoke is said to make malicious spirits flee. The main holiday dishes for Turkic Central Asians are pilaf (plov), shurpa, boiled mutton, and kok-samsa pies filled with spring greens and the young sprouts of steppe grasses. According to tradition, people try to make the celebratory table (Dastarkhan) as rich as possible with various dishes and sweets. Everyone at the table should be full and happy to ensure that the coming year will be safe and the crop will be plentiful. The holiday is accompanied by the competitions of national singers and storytellers, competitions of horsemen, and fights between strong men.
The festive events on the occasion of the Nooruz holiday are ongoing in Bishkek main square, Ala-Too, on March 21.
Celebrations in Tajikistan
Navruz , which signals the arrival of spring, is marked in Tajikistan with three days of games, celebrations and traditional food.
In Tajikistan, houses are spring-cleaned and people dress up in their best clothes in preparation for the March 21-March 24 fesitval.
During the three days of public holiday, traditional games are played by adults and children alike. For the grown-ups there is horseracing, wrestling, tug-of-war, arm-wrestling and buzkashi, a game played on horseback using the headless body of a goat.
Traditionally, girls jump with skipping ropes and boys play jacks with animal bones known as bujulbozi.
Celebrations in Iran
In Iran, Nowruz ceremonies start with a set of rituals of preparing for the new year and the marking the end of the cold season. It starts with people carrying out a thorough cleaning of their homes.
On the last Tuesday of the year, it is Chaharshanbeh-Soori or bonfire night. People jump over a trail of bonfires and the youngsters make a lot of noise with firecrackers.
Chaharshanbeh-Soori continues with a ritual later in the night, with people disguising themselves with long scarves and going door-to-door in the neighborhood asking for treats, which are mostly a mix of Persian roasted nuts.
The traditional rituals continue on the last Thursday of the year with many families remembering their dead relatives. Nowruz for Persian-speakers is a time of deep respect for the ancestors.
The celebrations culminate with the countdown to the New Year, with families gathering around what is known as the Haft-Seen table. The ritual involves laying out specific objects on a tablecloth, including seven edible items beginning with ‘s’. As these are not eaten until after the festivities, they are often substituted with alternatives, such as ‘sekke’ (coins), ‘sonbol’ (hyacinth) or ‘sabzeh’ (wheat sprouts).
The rituals continue until the 13th day of the New Year. Iranians believe that it is a bad omen to stay at home and so they all go out for picnics or barbecues in parks.
This article was created from the mix of sources with copyrights of it’s owners, all copyrights & original sources here: Euronews, National Geographic, IWPR, UN, eTurboNews, AkiPress, Voice of Tashkent, CyprusMail, Roads & Kingdoms, NuzUz.