What is Norouz(or noroz)?

15 03 2007

Norouz (Persian: نوروز‎ ) is the traditional Iranian new year holiday in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Albania, Georgia, various countries of Central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as among the Iranian peoples everywhere. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents of Sufism as well as Bahá’í Faith [1]. In Iran it is also referred to as an Eid festival, although it is not an Islamic feast. For Isma’ilis Navroz celebrates the birthday of Ali (Ali Ibn Talib), and is also celebrated as the new year festival due to the group being of Persian origin.

Norouz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year as well as the beginning of the Bahá’í year [2]. It is celebrated by some communities on March 21st and by others on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox (start of spring), which may occur on March 20th, 21st or 22nd.


The word comes from the Old Persian: nava=new + rəzaŋh=day/daylight, meaning “new day/daylight”, and still has the same meaning in the modern Persian (no=new + rouz=day; meaning “new day”)[citation needed].The term Norouz first appeared in Persian records in the second century AD, but it was also an important day during the Achaemenid times (c. 648-330 AD), where kings from different nations under Persian empire used to bring gifts to the emperor (Shahanshah) of Persia on Norouz

History and Tradition

Tradition dates Noruz as far back as 15,000 years ago — before the last ice age. The mythical Persian King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. Seasons played a vital part then. Everything depended on the four seasons. After a severe winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion with mother nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young. It was the dawn of abundance. Jamshid is said to be the person who introduced Noruz celebrationsProphet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra) was the architect of the pre-Islamic Iranian cosmology who instituted many feasts, festivals and rituals to pay homage to the seven creations, the holy immortals and Ahura Mazda. The seven most important ones are known as Gahambars, the feasts of obligation. The last and the most elaborate was Noruz, celebrating Ahura Mazda and the Holy Fire at the spring equinox.[3]Some 12 centuries later, in 487 BC, Darius the Great of the Achaemenian dynasty celebrated the Noruz at his newly built palaces of Persepolis. A recent research shows that it was a very special occasion. On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 06-30 a.m., an event which repeats itself once every 1400-1 years. It also happened to coincide with the Babylonian and Jewish new years. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient peoples.[4] It has been suggested that the famous Persepolis complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and the “Hundred Columns Hall”, were built for the specific purpose of celebrating Norouz. However, no mention of Norouz exists in Achaemenid inscriptions .

Later it became the national holiday of Arsacid/Parthian dynastic Empires who ruled Iran (248 BC-224 AD). There are specific references to the celebration of Norouz during the reign Vologases I (51-78 AD), but these include no details.

Local variations

Norouz has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion. Today, the festival of Norouz is celebrated in many countries that were territories of, or influenced by, the Persian Empire: Persia (Iran), Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of the Middle East, as well as in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan,Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is also celebrated by the Zoroastrian Parsis and Iranis in India, as well as by the inhabitants of northern areas of Pakistan, mainly in Chitral. In Turkey, it is called Nevruz in Turkish, Sultan Nevruz in Albanian and Newroz in Kurdish.In most countries, the greeting that accompanies the festival is Ayd-e Norouz Mobārak (mubarak: felicitations) in Persian. In Turkey, the greeting is either Bayramınız Mubarek/kutlu olsun (in Turkish) or Cejna te pîroz be (in Kurdish).

[edit] Norouz in modern Iran

In Iran, preparations for Norouz begin in Esfand (or Espand), the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar.

[edit] Khane Tekani

Main article: Khane Tekani

Persians, Afghans and other groups start preparing for the Norouz with a major spring-cleaning of their houses, the purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year and the purchase of flowers (in particular the hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous).

In association with the “rebirth of nature”, extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Persia. This is also extended to personal attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes. On the New Year’s day, families dress in their new clothes and start the twelve-day celebrations by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. On the thirteenth day families leave their homes and picnic outdoors.

During the Norouz holidays people are expected to visit one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbours) in the form of short house visits, which are usually reciprocated. Typically, on the first day of Norouz, family members gather around the table, with the Haft Seen on the table or set next to it, and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged. Later in the day, the first house visits are paid to the most senior family members. Typically, the youth will visit the elders first, and the elders return their visit later. The visits naturally have to be relatively short, otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on their list. A typical visit is around 30 minutes, where you often run into other visiting relatives and friends who happen to be paying a visit to the same house at that time. Because of the house visits, you make sure you have a sufficient supply of pastry, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and special nuts on hand, as you typically serve your visitors with these items with tea or sherbet. Many Iranians will throw large Norouz parties in a central location as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.

Some Norouz celebrants believe that whatever a person does on Norouz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbours on Norouz, then the new year will be a good one. On the other hand, if there are fights and disagreements, the year will be a bad one.

One tradition that may not be very widespread (that is, it may belong to only a few families) is to place something sweet, such as honey or candy, in a safe place outside overnight. On the first morning of the new year, the first person up brings the sweet stuff into the house as another means of attaining a good new year.

[edit] Chahârshanbe Sûrî

A man celebrating Chaharshanbe Sûrî

A man celebrating Chaharshanbe Sûrî

Main article: Chaharshanbe Suri

 Chehel Sotoun's Wall painting, that dates back to the Safavid era, depicts a Chaharshanbe Suri celebration.

Chehel Sotoun’s Wall painting, that dates back to the Safavid era, depicts a Chaharshanbe Suri celebration.

The night before the last Wednesday of the year is celebrated by the Iranian people as Chahârshanbe Sûrî Persian: چهارشنبه سوری), the Iranian festival of fire. This festival is the celebration of the light (the good) winning over the darkness (the bad); the symbolism behind the rituals are all rooted back to Zoroastrianism.

The tradition includes people going into the streets and alleys to make fires, and jump over them while singing the traditional song Zardî-ye man az to, sorkhî-ye to az man (literally: “My yellowness for you, your redness for me; “, but figuratively: My paleness (pain, sickness) from you, your strength (health) from me.

Serving different kinds of pastry and nuts known as Ajîleh Moshkel Goshâ (lit. The problem-solving nuts) is the Chahârshanbe Sûrî way of giving thanks for the previous year’s health and happiness, while exchanging any remaining paleness and evil for the warmth and vibrancy of the fire.

According to tradition, the living are visited by the spirit of their ancestors on the last days of the year, and many children wrap themselves in shrouds, symbolically re-enacting the visits. They also run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons and knocking on doors to ask for treats. The ritual is called qashogh-zany (spoon beating) and symbolizes the beating out of the last unlucky Wednesday of the year.

There are also several other traditions on this night, including the rituals of Kûzeh Shekastân, the breaking of earthen jars which symbolically hold ones bad fortune; the ritual of Fal-Gûsh, or inferring one’s future from the conversations of those passing by; and the ritual of Gereh-goshâ’î, making a knot in the corner of a handkerchief or garment and asking the first passerby to unravel it in order to remove ones misfortune.

[edit] The Haft Sîn

Main article: Haft sin table

The Traditional Haft Sîn

The Traditional Haft Sîn

Haft Sîn (هفت سین) or the seven ‘S’s is a major tradition of Norouz. The haft sin table includes seven items specific starting with the letter S or Sîn (س) in Persian alphabet). The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. Originally called Haft Chin (هفت چین), the Haft Sin has evolved over time, but has kept its symbolism. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a Haft Sîn table as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Norouzi visitations and is a reflection of their good taste.

The Haft Sin items are:

  • sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
  • samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence
  • senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love
  • sîr – garlic – symbolizing medicine
  • sîb – apples, – symbolizing beauty and health
  • somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
  • serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience

Other items on the table may include:

  • traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
  • dried nuts, berries and raisins (Aajeel)
  • lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
  • a mirror (to see your reflection and recocgnize how much you have grown and developed over the previous year)
  • decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family (fertility)
  • a bowl with goldfish (life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving)
  • a bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space)
  • rose water for its magical cleansing powers
  • the national colours, for a patriotic touch
  • a holy book (e.g., the Qur’an, Avesta, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bible, or Torah) and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnama or the Divan of Hafez)

[edit] Hâjji Fîrûz

The traditional herald of the Norouz season is called Hâjji Fîrûz (or Khwaja Pîrûz). He symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year.[5]

He usually uses face paint to make his skin black and wears a red costume. Then he sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading good cheer and heralds the coming of the New Year. Mehrdad Bahar, iranologist, suggests in his book that this borrowing of the Domuzi/Tammuz tradition from the ancient non-Iranian civilizations in Mesopotamia happened with the arrival of the Iranian tribes to the western parts of the Iranian Plateau at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. This borrowing may according to Bahar be true for the whole Norouz tradition itself as Indo-Iranian tribes before that did not have this tradition while the civilizations of Mesopotamia did. This later spread to all areas where Iranian culture was present but was lost by the non-Iranian cultures of Mesopotamia.

[edit] New Year Dishes

  • Sabzi Polo Mahi: The New Year’s day traditional meal is called Sabzi Polo Mahi, which is rice with green herbs served with fish. The traditional seasoning for Sabzi Polo are parsley, coriander, chives, dill and fenugreek.
  • Reshteh Polo: rice cooked with noodles which is said to symbolically help one succeed in life.
  • Dolme Barg : A traditional dish of Azeri people, cooked just before the new year. It includes some vegetables, meat and cotyledon which have been cooked and embedded in vine leaf and cooked again. It is considered useful in reaching to wishes.
  • Kookoo sabzi : Herbs and vegetable souffle, traditionally served for dinner at New Year. A light and fluffy omelet style made from parsley, dill, coriander, spinach, spring onion ends, and chives, mixed with eggs and walnut.

[edit] Sizdah Bedar

Main article: Sizdah Bedar

The thirteenth day of the New Year festival is Sizdah Bedar (literally meaning “thirteen to the door”, figuratively meaning “hit the outdoors on the thirteenth”), is a day of festivity in the open, often accompanied by music and dancing. The day is usually spent at family picnics.

The thirteenth day celebrations, Seezdah Bedar, stem from the belief of the ancient Persians that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for a thousand years. At the end of which, the sky and the earth collapsed in chaos. Hence, Norouz lasts twelve days and the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos when families put order aside and avoid the bad luck associated with the number thirteen by going outdoors and having picnics and parties.

At the end of the celebrations on this day, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Seen (which has symbolically collected all the sickness and bad luck) is thrown into running water to exorcise the demons (divs) from the household. It is also customary for young single women to tie the leaves of the sabzeh before discarding it, so expressing a wish to be married before the next year’s Seezdah Bedar.

[edit] Norouz in Afghanistan

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

  • Haft Mewa: In Afghanistan, they prepare Haft Mewa (Seven Fruits) instead of Haft Sin which is common in Iran. Haft Mewa is like a Fruit salad made from 7 different Dried fruits, served in their own syrup. The 7 dried fruits are: Raisin, 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 mā Kafcha zanem – Degarān dar Khwāb o mā Dafcha zanem
  • Gul-e Surkh Festival: It is an old festival celebrated only in Mazari Sharif for 40 days. People travel from different parts of the country to Mazar in order to attend the festival. It is celebrated along with the Janda Bālā 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 in the blue mosque in the first day of year (i.e. Nowroz). 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 Nowroz, especially on the eve of Nowroz. 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 Nowrozī, which is only baked for Nowroz. Another dish which is prepared mostly for the Nowroz days is Māhī wa Jelabī (Fried Fish and Jelabi) and it is the most often meal in picnics. In Afghanistan, it is a common custom among the affianced families that the fiancé’s family give presents to or prepare special dishes for the fiancée’s family on special occasions such as in the two Eids, Barā’at and in Nowrouz. Hence, the special dish for Nowroz is Māhī wa Jelabī.
  • Sightseeing to Cercis fields: The citizens of Kabul go to Istalif 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 Dehqān: 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.

[edit] Newroz celebration by Kurds

Kurds celebrating Nouruz in Istanbul, 2006.

Kurds celebrating Nouruz in Istanbul, 2006.

Main article: Newroz as celebrated by Kurds

The Kurds celebrate this Iranian feast between 18th till 21st March. The word Norouz is pronounced as ‘Newruz’ by the Kurds. It is one of the few ‘peoples celebrations’ that has survived and predates all the major religious festivals.

With this festival Kurds gather into the fairgrounds mostly outside the cities to welcome spring. Women wear gaily colored dresses and spangled head scarves and young men wave flags of green, yellow and red, the colors of the Kurdish people. By lighting fire and dancing around it they hold this festival [3], also see: [4].

The Kurdish greetings that accompany the festival are Newroz píroz be! meaning Happy Newroz! or Bijí Newroz! meaning Long live Newroz!

The festival was illegal until 2000 in Turkey, where most of the Kurds live [5], and Turkish forces arrested Kurds celebrating Newroz [6]. In Newroz 1992 at least 70 people celebrating the festival were killed by Turkish security forces [7]. The official Turkey now celebrates Nevruz as a Turkish spring holiday. Newroz is however still considered as a potent symbol of Kurdish identity in Turkey. Newroz celebrations are usually organised by Kurdish cultural associations and pro-Kurdish political parties. Thus, the Democratic Society Party was a leading force in the organisation of the 2006 Newroz events throughout Turkey. In recent years the Newroz celebration gathers around 1 million participants in Diyarbakır, the biggest city of the Kurdish dominated Southeastern Turkey. As the Kurdish Newroz celebrations in Turkey often are theater for political messages, the events are frequently criticized for rather being political rallies than cultural celebrations.

[edit] Bahá’í Faith

The Bahá’í Faith, a religion with its origin in Iran, celebrates this day (spelling it “Naw Rúz”) as a religious holiday marking not only the new year according to the Bahá’í calendar, but the end of their Nineteen Day Fast. Persian Bahá’ís still observe many Iranian customs associated with it, but Bahá’ís all over the world celebrate it as a festive day, according to local custom. American Bahá’í communities, for example, may have a potluck dinner, along with prayers and readings from Bahá’í scripture. While Naw Rúz, according to scripture, begins on the vernal equinox, Bahá’ís outside Iran currently celebrate it on March 21, regardless of what day the equinox falls. Bahá’ís are required to suspend work and school in observance.

Although the Persian calendar is very precise about the very moment that the astronomical new year begins, in Iran, the 24-hour period (as per “wall clock” time) in which the astronomical new year begins is treated as Naw Ruz.

[edit] Fasli

Adherents of the Fasli variant of the Zoroastrian calendar also celebrate Norouz as the first day of the New Year. Other variants of the Zoroastrian calendar celebrate the Norouz twice: once as Jamshedi Norouz on March 21st as the start of spring, and a second Norouz, in July/August (see Variations of the Zoroastrian calendar), as either new year’s eve or new year’s day. That the second Norouz is celebrated by some as the last day of the year (contrary to what might be expected from a term that means “new day”), may be due to the fact that in ancient Persia the day began at sunset, while in later Persian belief the day began at sunrise.

[edit] Norouz around the world

Norouz is celebrated by Iranians publicly worldwide. It is publicly celebrated in the Caucasus region and central Asia. It is a colorful holiday in: Azerbaijan [8], Turkmenistan [9], Tajikistan [10], Uzbekistan [11], Pakistan [12], Kazakhstan [13], and Kyrgyzstan [14].

In Albania Sultan Nevruz is celebrated as a manily mystical day by the Bektashi sect, there are special ceremonies in the Tekke led by the clergy and large meals are served there. It is considered the historical Albanian New Year by the Bektashis, who refer to old Illyrian evidence.

Norouz is also celebrated by Kurds in Iraq[15] and Turkey [16] as well as by Parsis in India and Pakistan.

Other notable celebrations take place by Iranians in America, such as Los Angeles [17] and Toronto and in United Kingdom, mainly in London [18].

But because Los Angeles is prone to devastating fires, there are very strict fire codes in the city. No fires are allowed even on one’s own property. Usually, Iranians and Azerbaijanis living in Southern California go to the beaches to celebrate the event where it is permissible to build fires. [19]

[edit] Trivia

On June 1, 2006, the word for Norouz was used in the final session of the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States. 11-year-old contestant Allion Salvador of Fort Lauderdale Florida was eliminated from the top 13 contestants in the final rounds for offering the spelling “naoruse” rather than the spelling “nauruz” that was considered correct for the competition [20] [21]. The official pronouncer prompted Salvador with a pronunciation in which the first syllable was pronounced like the English word “now” rather than “no”, and indicated that no alternative pronunciations were available. The origin of the word was described as Persian and the definition given was, approximately, the Persian New Year holiday. It is noteworthy that there appears to be little agreement over how to spell this word in English and that neither the spelling considered official by Scripps nor the offered pronunciation would appear to be considered correct by most people familiar with the word



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