Each year around the world, millions of people celebrate the arrival of springtime with the festival of Novruz. Learn more about this favorite spring festival and its importance in Azerbaijani culture.
History of Novruz Bayramı
The origins of Novruz Bayramı ("The New Day holiday" in Azeri) stem from ancient Persian culture, signifying the time when the sun enters the Vernal Equniox. The first recording of Novruz comes from a 2 A.D. Persian text, though many historians also believe that Novruz traditions stretch all the way back to the days of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 548–330 BC). Mary Boyce, prominent historian on Zoroastrian festivals, notes "It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Persians to develop their own spring festival into an established new year feast, with the name Navasarda 'New Year' (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).
Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been a seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, it is probable, that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year" The spring festival has held great significance in Persian culture ever since, and is celebrated today in many Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Novruz was unofficially celebrated or even prohibited when Azerbaijan was a part of the Soviet Union. After Azerbaijan broke away in 1991, the festival was declared an official public holiday and is continually celebrated as such.
Novruz in Azerbaijan
Through Persian culture and influence, Novruz became popular in Azerbaijan and is now the most ancient holiday on the Azerbaijani calendar. Each year, Novruz is celebrated throughout Azerbaijan with special food, extensive spring cleaning, and traditions dating back hundreds of years.
To prepare for the coming celebration of Novruz, Azeris spend weeks before the holiday cleaning their homes and preparing for the many guests who will likely stop by for visits. Most households also grow semeni (green wheat seedlings), which symbolize the new springtime growth and are used for decoration.
On the four Tuesdays leading up to Novruz, Azeris celebrate each of the elements: water, fire, earth, and wind. The last and the most important Tuesday is devoted to wind and called Yel Charshanbasi or Ilakhir Chershenbe. On Ilakhir Chershenbe, everyone jumps over small bonfires seven times. While jumping, they repeat the phrase: “My yellowness is for you, your redness- for me”, which means “take away my diseases and give me your strength”.
Of course, what is Novruz without the delicious foods! Among the many sweets served at each home are pakhlav (baklava), shakarbura (a cookie with nuts and sugar wrapped in dough), and shorgogal ( layers of pastry flavoured with turmeric and fennel seeds). Tables are set with a large silver or copper tray, with a pot of wheat grass in the center, surrounded by pastries, cookies, dyed eggs, and candles.
The Novruz holiday is really a family time, a time when old disputes are laid to rest, and distant relatives and friends visit to share in the celebrations. On the eve of Novruz, families visit and decorate the graves of relatives as an act of remembrance. In 2006, the government of Azerbaijan deemed Novruz an official public holiday, giving all workers 5 days off to celebrate with family and friends.
Novruz Around the World
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed A/RES/64/253 proclaiming "International Nowruz Day". For his annual message for Novruz in 2011, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said "Nowruz is a day for renewal. It is an opportunity to reflect on the intimate links between people and the natural world. And it carries a strong message of peace and harmony between peoples of all cultures on the basis of mutual respect and understanding."
Nowruz is also inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.