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Norouz Across Various Lands 

Norouz is not celebrated only in Iran. Different nations across the Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Indian Peninsula celebrate it but they have different ceremonies or even mythologies about it. Here we explore some of these resemblances and differences.

Celebrations of spring are a natural out-growth of the Earth’s rhythms. In most of the Silk Road countries, Norouz announces the joyful awakening of nature after winter and the beginning of the agricultural cycle of cultivating, planting, and harvesting. Norouz traditions are similar throughout the region, and have varied little over the centuries, except to embrace Islam. Unlike the western New Year traditions, Norouz is celebrated during daytime hours within the family circle. March 21 is the main celebration, but for the next 13 days it is common practice to visit friends and relatives, buy and plant seedlings of fruit trees and have cheerful gatherings in the fresh spring air. Traditionally, it is also a time to «clean up» one’s life.

People tidy up their homes, wash rugs and draperies, decorate with flowers, and buy new clothes that they will use for visiting. On the day of Norouz, all housekeeping - including the preparation of the meal, careful cleaning of the home and the arrangement of blossoming branches from apricot, peach, almond or pomegranate trees - must be completed before the rising of the morning star. Children enjoy the holiday because they often get presents of money, as well as blessings, from their elders.

The activities of the first 13 days of the New Year are considered harbingers of the year to come. For this reason, it is traditional to end quarrels, forgive debts and overlook enmity and insults. It is a time for reconciliation, when forgiveness and cheerfulness are the dominant sentiments. As with the celebration of the Chinese New Year, there are traditions associated with the first visitor to the house during Norouz. To ensure good luck for the coming year, this person should have a «happy foot»; he or she should be kind, gentle, witty, and pious and have a good reputation.

In Iran and the small communities of Kurdistan, Iran and Northern India, where Zoroastrism has retained a strong influence amongst the populace, traditions require that the Norouz celebratory table contain specific elements. First, there must be a mirror, which reflects the past and shows the future so that people can make reasonable plans. Next, there must be candles. The flames hark back to the sacred nature of fire in the Zoroastrian religion, and personify the light and energy of a righteous life. The table must also contain an incense-burner for aromas and a water-filled vessel in which a live fish is placed to symbolize a happy life full of activity and movement. Most tables also include coins, fruit and a copy of a sacred book, such as the Koran. Various types of food and plants must be on the table, including seven dishes that begin with the Farsi letter «S» and seven dishes that begin with the letter «sh». These include vinegar, sumac berries, garlic, sprouted wheat, apples, berries of sea-buckthorn and fresh herbs as well as wine, sugar, syrup, honey, sweets, milk and rice.

Norouz in Iran

In harmony with the rebirth of nature, the two-week Persian New Year celebration, or Norouz, always begins on the first day of spring. On that day - which may occur on March 20, 21, or 22 - Norouz celebrations include many traditions and wonderful foods.

Norouz ceremonies consist of a series of symbolic actions dating back to ancient times, including:

- Cleaning of the environment, cleansing of the self, confession of sins, the exorcising of devils, or divs, from the house and the community.

- Forgive yourself and your enemies and a time for making up relationships.

- Dowsing and re-lighting the fires.

- Processions to borders, seas, and rivers.

- Disruption of the normal order of things with boisterous parties.

A few weeks before the New Year, Iranians thoroughly clean and rearrange their homes. They make or buy new clothes, bake pastries and germinate seeds as signs of renewal. Troubadours, called Hadji Firuz or heralds of rebirth, disguised with makeup and wearing red satin outfits, sing and dance through thestreets with tambourines, kettle drums, and trumpets to spread good cheer and the news of the coming New Year. The celebration of renewal is attributed to the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the new year. The Hadji Firuz’s disguised face represents his return from the world of the dead, his red costume symbolizes the blood and tragic fate of the legendary Prince Siavush and the rebirth of the god of sacrifice, while his happiness and singing represent his joy at being reborn.

In every Persian household a special cover is spread onto a carpet or on a table. This ceremonial setting is called sofreh-ye haft-sinn (literally “seven dishes’ setting,” each one beginning with the Persian letter sinn). The number seven has been sacred in Iran since antiquity, and the seven dishes stand for the seven angelic heralds of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty.The symbolic dishes consist of sabzeh, or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil, representing rebirth. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding, and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking. Sib means apple and represents health and beauty. Senjed, the sweet, dry fruit of the wild olive, represents love. It has been said that when the wild olive is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else. Seer, which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine. Somaq, sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil. Serkeh, or vinegar, represents age and patience.

To reconfirm the hopes and wishes expressed by the traditional foods, other elements and symbols are also placed on the sofreh. Books of tradition and wisdom are laid out: usually a copy of the holy Koran; and/or a divan of the poems of Hafez. A few coins, representing wealth, and a basket of painted eggs, representing fertility, are also placed on the sofreh. A Seville orange floating in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space, and a goldfish in a bowl of water represents Anahita, one of the angels of water and fertitily, which is the main purpose of the Norouz celebration. The fish also represents life and the end of the astral year associated with the constellation Pisces. A flask of rose water, known for its magical cleansing power, is also included on the sofreh. A bowl of fresh milk, representing nourishment for the children of the world. Pussy willow branches, pomegrantes, figs, and olives, representing time. Nearby is a brazier for burning wild rue, a sacred herb whose smoldering fumes are said to ward off evil spirits. A pot of flowering hyacinth or narcissus is also set on the sofreh. On either side of a mirror are two candelabra holding a flickering candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness. The mirror represents the images and reflections of Creation as we celebrate anew the ancient Persian traditions and beliefs that creation took place on the first day of spring, or Norouz.

On the same table many people place seven special sweets because, according to a three-thousand-year-old legend, King Jamshid discovered sugar on Norouz (the word candy comes from the Persian word for sugar, qand). These seven sweets are noghls (sugar-coated almonds); Persian baklava, a sweet, flaky pastry filled with chopped almonds and pistachios soaked in honey-flavored rose water; nan-e berenji (rice cookies), made of rice flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with poppy seeds; nan-e badami (almond cookies), made of almond flour flavored with cardamom and rose water; nan-e nokhod-chi (chick-pea cookies), made of chick-pea flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachios; sohan asali (honey almonds), cooked with honey and saffron and garnished with pistachios; and nane gerdui (walnut cookies), made of walnut flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachio slivers.

On the eve of the last Wednesday of the year (Shab-e chahar shanbeh sury, literally “the eve of Red Wednesday” or “the eve of celebration”), bonfires are lit in public places and people leap over the flames, shouting, “Sorkhi-e to az man o zardi-e man az to!” (Give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly pallor!). With the help of fire and light, symbols of good, celebrants pass through this unlucky night - the End of the Year- and into the arrival of spring’s longer days. Tradition holds that the living are visited by the spirits of their ancestors on the last days of the year. Many people, specially children, wrap themselves in shrouds to symbolically reenact the visits. By the light of the bonfire, they run through the streets, banging on pots and pans with spoons and knocking on doors to ask for treats. This ritual is called qashogh-zany and reenacts the beating out of the last unlucky Wednesday of the year. In order to make wishes come true, it is customary to prepare special foods and distribute them on this night: Ash-e reshteh-ye nazri (Noodle Soup); a filled Persian delight, Baslogh, and special snacks called ajil-e chahar shanbeh soury and ajil-e moshkel gosha. The last, literally meaning unraveler of difficulties, is made by mixing seven dried nuts and fruits-pistachios, roasted chick-peas, almonds, hazelnuts, peaches, apricots, and raisins.

A few hours prior to the transition to the New Year, family and friends sit around the sofreh-ye haft-sinn. Everyone sings traditional songs, and poems of Hafez and verses from the Koran are recited.

Exactly at the moment of the equinox, my father would recite a prayer for the transition, wishing for a good life, and we would all re-peat after him out loud.

Then traditionally the oldest person present begins the well-wishing by standing up and giving out sweets, pastries, coins, and hugs. Calm, happiness, sweetness, and perfumed odors are very important on this day ofrebirth, since the mood on this day is said to continue throughout the year. An old sayinggoes, “Good thought, good word, good deed-to the year end, happy indeed.”

The New Year celebration continues for twelve days after the equinox occurs. Traditionally, during the first few days, it is the younger members of the family who visit their older relatives and friends in order to show their respect. Sweet pastries and delicious frosty drinks are served to visitors, and there is a general air of festivity all around. The children receive gifts, usually crisp new notes of money; in America, dollar bills. In the remaining days, the elders return the visits of the younger members of the family.

According to the ancients, each of the twelve constellations in the zodiac governed one of the months of the year, and each would rule the earth for a thousand years, after which the sky and the earth would collapse into each other. The Norouz celebrations, therefore, lasted twelve days, plus a thirteenth day (representing the time of chaos) celebrated by going outdoors, putting order aside and having parties. On this thirteenth day, called Siz-deh bedar or outdoor thirteen, entire families leave their homes to carry trays of sprouted seeds in a procession to go picnic in a cool, grassy place. Far from home, they throw the sprouts into the water, which is thought to exorcise the divs and evil eyes from the house and the household. Wishing to get married by the next year, unmarried girls tie blades of grass together. There is much singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. With this, the Norouz celebrations are completed.

The traditional menu for the Norouz gathering on the day of the equinox usually includes fish and noodles. It is believed they bring good luck, fertiltiy and prosperity in the year that lies ahead.

- Noodle Soup – Ash-e reshteh, noodles representing the Gordian knots of life. Eating them symbolically helps toward unraveling life’s knotty problems.

- Rice with Fresh Herbs and Fish - Sabzi polow ba mahi, fresh herb rice representing rebirth, fish representing Anahita, one of the angels of water and fertility. Or rice with noodles, dates and raisins, or rice with barberries, candied orange peels and carrots.

- Herb Kuku - Kuku-ye sabzi, the eggs and herbs represent fertility and rebirth.

- Bread, Cheese, and Fresh Herbs – Nan-o panir-o sabzi khordan, representing prosperity.

- Wheat Sprout pudding – Samanu, representing fertitlity and rebirth.

- Sprout Cookies – Kolucheh-ye Javaneh-ye Gandom, representing prosperity and fertility.

- Ice in Paradise - Yakh dar Behesht, representing nourishment for the children of the world.

- Saffron Sherbet and Saffron Tea with Rock Candy – Sharbat-e Zaferan va Chai-e Zafaran ba nabat, representing sweetness and light.

- Baklava, Chick-pea Cookies, and Sugar Coated Almonds – Baqlava, Nan-e Nokhod-chi, Noghl, representing prosperity.

Norouz in Kurdistan

Norouz or Nûroj (Kurdish: Norouz/Nûroj) refers to the celebration of the New Year holiday of Norouz in Kurdistan. Norouz is celebrated throughout the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia such as in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Turkey by Kurds.In Kurdish legend, the holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Kurds from a tyrant, and it is seen as another way of demonstrating support for the Kurdish cause.The celebration is commonly transliterated Norouz by the Kurds and coincides with the spring equinox which falls mainly on 21 March and the festival is held usually between the 18th and 24th of March. The festival currently has an important place in the terms of Kurdish identity for the majority of Kurds, mostly in Turkey and Syria. Though celebrations vary, people generally gather together to welcome the coming of spring; people wear colored clothes and wave their flag.

2-1 Kurdish Mythology: Story of Zahak

In The Meadows of Gold by Muslim historian Masudi, and Shahnameh, a poetic opus written by the Sharafnameh of medieval Kurdish historian Sherefxan Bidlisi, Zahhak is an evil king who conquers Kurdistan and whohas serpents growing out of his shoulders. The Zahak’s rule lasts for a thousand years during which two young Kurdish men are sacrificed daily to provide their brains to the serpents to alleviate the pain that Zahak felt. The man who was charged with slaughtering two young people each day would instead kill one person a day and would mix their brains with that of a sheep, thus saving one young man a day. As discontent grows against Zahhak’s rule, the nobleman plan a revolt, being led by Kawe (or Kawa), a blacksmith, who has lost six sons to Zahhak. Therefore, the saved young children (who according to the legend were ancestors of the Kurds are then trained by Kawa into an army marches to Zahhak’s castle where Kawe kills the king with a hammer; eventually Kawa instates Fereydun as king. According to Evliya Çelebi, the district (sancak) of Merkawe in Shahrazur (Sharazur) is named after the blacksmith Kawe who overthrew Zahhak. The 12th century geographer Yaqoot Hamawi, mentions Zor son of Zahhak (Aji Dahak) as founder of the famous city of Sharazur.

According to Kurdish myth, Kawe lived for 2,500 years under the tyranny of Zahhak, an Assyrian who is named Zuhak or Dehak by the Kurds. Dehak’s evil reign caused spring to no longer come to Kurdistan. March 20th is traditionally marked as the day that Kawe defeated Dehak. He is then said to have set fires on the hillsides to celebrate the victory and summon his supporters; subsequently spring returned to Kurdistan the next day.

This legend is now used by the Kurds to remind them that they are a different, strong people, and the lighting of the fires has since become a symbol of freedom.

Norouz is considered the most important festival in Kurdish culture, and is a time for entertainments such as games, dancing, family gathering, preparation of special foods and the reading of poetry. The celebration of Norouz has its local peculiarities in different regions of Kurdistan. On the eve of Norouz bonfires are lit. These fires symbolize the passing of the dark season, winter, and the arrival of spring, the season of light.

3. Norouz in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, Norouz festival is traditionally celebrated for 2 weeks. Preparations for Norouz start several days beforehand, at least after Chaharshanbe Suri, the last Wednesday before the New Year. Among various traditions and customs, the most important ones are:

Haft Mawa: In Afghanistan, they prepare Haft Mawa (Seven Fruits) instead of Haft Sin which is common in Iran. Haft Mawa is like a Fruit salad made from 7 different Dried fruits, served in their own syrup. The 7 dried fruits are: Rai-sin, Senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), Pistachio, Hazelnut, Prune (dry fruit of Apricot), Walnut and whether Almond or another species of Plum fruit.

Samanak: It is a special type of sweet dish made from Wheat germ. Women take a special party for it during the night, and cook it from late in the evening till the daylight, singing a special song: Samanak dar Josh o ma Kafcha zanem - Degaran dar Khwab o ma Dafcha zanem

Mala-e Gul-e Surkh (Persian: ﺥﺮﺳ ﻞﮔ ﻯﻪﻠﻴﻣ): The Guli Surkh festival which literally means Red Flower Festival (referring to the red Tulip flowers) is an old festival celebrated only in Mazari Sharif during the first 40 days of the year when the Tulip flowers grow. People travel from different parts of the country to Mazar in order to attend the festival. It is celebrated along with the Jahenda Bala ceremony which is a specific religious ceremony performed in the holy blue mosque of Mazar that is believed (mostly by Sunnite Afghans) to be the site of the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph of Islam. The ceremony is performed by raising a special banner (whose color configuration resembles Derafsh Kaviani) in the blue mosque in the first day of year (i.e. Norouz). The Guli Surkh party continues with other special activities among people in the Tulip fields and around the blue mosque for 40 days.

Buzkashi: Along with other customs and celebrations, normally a Buzkashi tournament is held. The Buzkashi matches take place in northern cities of Afghanistan and in Kabul. Special cuisines: People cook special types of dishes for Norouz, specially on the eve of Norouz. Normally they cook Sabzi Chalaw, a dish made from rice and spinach, separately. Moreover, the bakeries prepare a special type of cookie, called Kulcha-e Norouza, which is only baked for Norouz. Another dish which is prepared mostly for the Norouz days is Maha wa Jelaba (Fried Fish and Jelabi) and it is the most often meal in picnics. InAfghanistan, it is a common custom among the affianced families that the fiance’s family give presents to or prepare special dishes for the fiancee’s family on special occasions such as in the two Eids, Bara’at and in Norouz. Hence, the special dish for Norouz is Maha wa Jelaba.

Sightseeing to Cercis fields: The citizens of Kabul go to Istalif, Charikar or other green places around where the Cercis flowers grow. They go for picnic with their families during the first 2 weeks of New Year.

Jashni Dehqan: Jashni Dehqan means The Festival of Farmers. It is celebrated in the first day of year, in which the farmers walk in the cities as a sign of encouragement for the agricultural productions. In recent years, this activity is being performed only in Kabul and other major cities, in which the mayor and other high governmental personalities participate for watching and observing.

4.Norouz in Republics of Caucasus and Central Asia

As Turks and other nomadic peoples moved into Central Asia and areas around Persia, they adopted the celebration of Norouz. Just as the Saxon holiday of Ostara was embraced by Christianity and become Easter in the West, Norouz traditions, which had grown strong roots in the life of Eurasian farmers and townspeople, survived the coming of Islam to the area 1.400 years ago. Today, Navrus is celebrated widely and colorfully in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the western provinces of China, as well as the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq and the Tatars and Bashkirs in southern Russia. In the last ten years, the Central Asian republics have recognized Norouz as an official holiday. Its celebration is marked by concerts in parks and squares, trade fairs and national horseracing competitions.

In the western provinces of China, both Turkish and Chinese people celebrate the holiday of Norouz by wearing bright cheerful clothes and going to the temple with flowers and a small clay figure of a buffalo. A large bamboo buffalo is constructed near the temple and covered with paper painted in red, black, white, green and yellow, which symbolize the five elements of the universe (fire, water, metal, wood and earth). Near the temple people break clay figures down and burn the bamboo buffalo.

Central Asia has its own Norouz traditions. From ancient times, the holiday was celebrated in agricultural oases with festivals, bazaars, horseracing, 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.

On March 21, Kazakh and Kyrgyz households fumigate their homes with smoke from the burning of archa twigs (a coniferous tree of Central Asian 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 story-tellers, competitions of horsemen and fights between strong men.

Tadjiks, whose ethnic roots are more Persian than Turkic, have slightly different traditions. In a Tadjik household, the owner of a house or his elder sons must prepare fried shish kebab and a sweet pilaf made of rice and other cereals These dishes symbolize the wish for the coming year to be as «sweet» and happy.

Some mountain settlements have a special custom. Before the holiday, young men will try to secretly clear out the cattle shed of a pros-perous man with a marriageable daughter. If they succeed, the owner must treat them gen-erously; however, if they fail, they must treat the owner. In Afghanistan, Norouz is called «Ruz-e-Dekhkan», the Day of the Peasant, or «Ruz-e-Nekholshoni» the Day of Planting Trees. Before going to their fields, farmers ar-range parades with songs and dancing, and traditional instruments. The horns and necks of oxen that will be used for the first plowing of spring fields are sometimes rubbed with aromatic oil.

In southern Russia, the Bashkirs probably adopted the celebration of Norouz from Persian tribes that once lived in the Ural Valley. The weather in these territories is not yet spring like in late March, so the holiday is somewhat different than in other regions. First, young men in a community collect products for the making of a common meal and embroidered

«prizes» for the winners of running, dancing and singing competitions that will be held. On the day of Norouz, ceremonies are performed to cajole the natural forces and spirits of ancestors into assuring a successful new year. In addition to the common meal, each family cooks a celebratory dish from buckwheat groats and sweets.

Throughout the world, many other cultures have long celebrated the coming of the spring equinox. In Egypt, both Moslems and Christians celebrate the coming of spring on the Monday after Coptic Easter. This holiday, called Sham el Nessim, is thought to have its roots in ancient Egypt, when it was celebrated at the spring equinox just like Norouz. Ancient Slavs, the Japanese and many Native American tribes also have historical holidays that were tied to the spring solstice. The longevity of Norouz and other spring celebrations indicates the significance we still attach to the beginning of a new agricultural year and the triumph of life and warmth over the long cold winter. So, wherever you are next March 21, celebrate life!

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