What is Nowruz? The Persian New Year Explained



More than 300 million people celebrate Nowruz every year. When is it celebrated and how will it be
These annual traditions to welcome the spring have been passed on from generation to generation throughout the last millennium,

Nowruz provides an opportunity not only to enjoy ancient cultural customs and traditional songs, music, dancing, rituals, foods, and story-telling but also to promote peace and solidarity within towns and communities and to strengthen deep-rooted bonds of friendship and exchange
Nowruz is the national New Year festivity celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, and throughout Central Asia.

With roots going back at least 3,000 years, Nowruz is one of the oldest festivals that is still marked by humans.

The event is a springtime celebration whose activities symbolize rebirth and the link between humans and nature.

The Iranian poet Saadi (1210-1291) wrote: “Awaken, the morning Nowruz breeze is showering the garden with flowers.”

While the two-week celebrations center on seeing relatives, picnicking, traveling, and eating traditional food,

Nowruz itself – which is Farsi for New Day – is steeped in ancient myths and fiction, as well as traditions and symbols.



When is Nowruz?

It begins at the spring equinox – the moment when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length.
Usually, this is between 19-21 March, depending on astronomical calculations.

Persian calender vs west calender


Why does the Persian new year start on an odd date? Is it really odd?

As we mentioned before, in the post about language, Persian is one of the branches of Indo-europian languages,

So you could say iranians or originally from the same ethnicity as Europeans so it wouldn’t be very strange if they had the same calendar too but it seems that it is not the case
but if you take a closer look at the western calendar you came across the month October November and December which are equal to the 8th, 9th, and 10th months of the Persian calendar,

and it makes more sense when you realize that oct Nov and Dec mean 8, 9 and 10 in Latin, in conclusion,

in fact, October November and December were actually 8th, 9th and 10th month of ancient western calendar which was changed due to changing the beginning of the year based on the religious reason of celebrating the birth of Jesus.
So 8th, 9th, and 10th months of the year turned into the 10th, 11, and 12th months of the new calendar.


Who celebrates Nowruz?

It is part of Zoroastrianism, a Persian religion that predates Christianity and Islam to the first millennium BC.

It is both monotheistic – Ahuramazda, the supreme deity, is the creator of all good things – and dualistic in its teachings.

In Zoroastrianism, fire and water are considered symbols of purity.

It was founded by Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra), whose religious teachings are the foundation for Zoroastrianism.

His collections of writings are known as the Avesta.


When was Nowruz first celebrated?

Described by 11th-century Persian astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam as “the renewal of the world”, Nowruz dates back thousands of years.

It is not known exactly how far back Nowruz goes, but current estimates are that it is at least 3,000 years old, when the Persian empire extended beyond the borders of modern Iran.

It is not mentioned in the Avesta.

Over the centuries, this age-old rite has developed and expanded.

Gradually, the celebrations accumulated more social, religious, and cultural influences as they spread along established trade routes and among an estimated 300 million people.

It has survived centuries of conquests, from the seventh- and eighth-century Arab forces which invaded the Persian world to governments in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia;

from the Taliban in Afghanistan to secular authorities in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, which have tried to curtail Kurdish cultural identity.



How do you prepare for Nowruz?

While specific traditions vary from country to country,

as different cultures add their own elements, the central theme is the same:

a celebration of spring and a time for rebirth and renewal.

In Afghanistan, for example,

the main event is Guli Surkh, or the Red Flower Festival in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the buzkashi tournaments,

a national sport similar to polo, are held during the first 40 days of the year. A goat carcass is used instead of a ball.

A commonality across the Central Asian countries is the 24-hour preparation of sumalak, a thick pudding made from wheatgrass, as women sing folk songs while stirring huge pots.

Open-air festivals showcase nomadic traditions and sports, such as horse racing, wrestling, and archery.

Preparations for Nowruz celebrations in Iran begin weeks before the start of spring,

including house-cleaning (khaneh takani). Families also grow sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean or lentils) in a dish.

When the greens sprout after a couple of weeks, the dish is placed on the Haft-seen table,

which is the focus of Nowruz’s observance.

It is joined by six other symbolic items which start with the Persian letter “seen” or S. That makes seven, a sacred number in Zoroastrianism. They include:

seeb (apples) – a symbol of health and beauty
senjed (dried oleaster berries) – wisdom and rebirth
samanu (wheat pudding) – strength/justice
somaq (sumac) – patience
serkeh (vinegar) – age/patience
seer (garlic) – cleansing of body and environment
The Haft-seen spread also includes other items such as a mirror, symbolizing reflection; coloured eggs, for fertility;

and goldfish in a bowl, which represent life.

There is usually also a book by the Persian poet Hafez (1315-1390), or the Quran.

They reflect Nowruz’s power to blend its ancient roots with more recent religious and cultural traditions.


How is It celebrated?

The arrival of Nowruz is announced by street singers,

known as Haji Firooz, who wear colorful outfits and play the tambourine.

The performers blacken their faces with shoe polish or a mixture of soot and fat. Years ago,

charcoal was commonly used.

They represent a fictional character in Iranian folklore whose roots are ambiguous.

Some versions of the traditional story trace him to a character watching over the eternal flame of the ancient Zoroastrians;

another is that Haji Firooz was actually a black slave who entertained during the New Year in the Sassanid period (224 to 651 AD).

Yet the more plausible theory is that he was one of the estimated two million black slaves who were brought to Iran from Africa as part of the 19th-century Indian Ocean slave trade.

The last Tuesday evening before Nowruz (17 March this year) is the celebration of Chaharshanbeh Soori,

the symbolic burning of all that was negative from the previous year while looking forward to a new beginning.
Related customs include jumping over bonfires in the streets while chanting:

“Give me your red color, take my yellow color.” This symbolizes how the fire takes away the yellow of sickness and gives back the red of health and warmth.

In recent years, firecrackers have become more frequent, much to the annoyance of some participants.

There is also Qashoq Zani, which involves children banging spoons on cooking pots and knocking on neighbours’ doors to receive sweets.

Haji Firuz(Piruz) Qashogh Zani

What food do people eat for New Year?

On the first day of Nowruz, families gather at the home of their oldest family member.

The traditional New Year meal includes sabzi polo mahi (rice mixed with herbs and served with white fish);

ash reshteh (a thick green soup with noodles, chickpeas and beans); and kuku sabzi (vegetable frittata).

Pastries include baghlava, toot (mulberry); naan-nokhodchi (chickpea cookies with pistachio); and ajeel (dried berries and raisins).


How long does Nowruz last?

The festivities end 13 days after the New Year with Sizdeh Bedar, which can be translated as either “getting rid of 13” (a symbol of bad luck), or “hitting the road”.

On Sizdeh Bedar, people head for open fields, meadows, parks, and riversides to picnic,

taking the sabzeh they had meticulously grown with them .

There, they throw the sabzeh into the river or the fields, to symbolize giving back to nature.

Schools and offices usually re-open the following day.

What’s the Iranian government’s view of Nowruz celebrations?
After the 1979 overthrow of 2,500 years of monarchy,

the Islamic Republic of Iran,

which had initially tried to equate the celebratory rituals with paganism, failed to stamp out the festivities that are deeply embedded in Iranian culture.

Thus in Iran, Nowruz has become a symbol of resistance that is reflected in the common greeting Nowruz pirooz, which means “Nowruz victorious”,

or more commonly, Eid shoma Mubarak.

sizdahbedar 2

Who celebrates Nowruz?

Iranians, but it is not just Iranians,

In fact, all those people which historically or geographically were in the Persian empire and have a bond with Persia ethnically.
So, It’s also an official holiday in Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia’s Bayan-Ölgii province, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and it’s widely celebrated in places like Turkey, India and other places with Persian enclaves.

In 2009, UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations,

listed the holiday on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,

noting that it “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.

” March 21 is officially recognized as International Nowruz Day, though the holiday itself is celebrated between March 19 and 22, depending on calendars and vernal equinox calculations.



How do we know about It?

In his book Cyropaedia, the Greek historian Xenophon (431-354 BC)

mentions the celebration that took place in Persepolis – Persepolis in Persian is Takht-e Jamshid or the “Throne of Jamshid”.

According to Persian legend, Jamshid possessed divine glory and was commanded by the supreme Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda – who represented light and fire, truth, goodness, and wisdom – to fight Ahriman.

Ahriman was his twin brother, the god of darkness, anger, and death, who had caused drought, famine, and the destruction of good and abundance.

After defeating Ahriman, every dry tree blossomed and Jamshid once more brought prosperity to his people,

hence the present-day tradition of giving back the sabzeh to nature.

Related narratives are mainly traced from the epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings), by the 11th-century poet Ferdowsi,

which credits the mythical King Jamshid for establishing Nowruz after he saved humans from a harsh winter that was destined to freeze the planet.

“He constructed a throne studded with gems, and had demons raise him aloft from the earth into the heavens;

there he sat on his throne like the sun shining in the sky.

The world’s creatures gathered in wonder around him and offered him jewels, and called this day the New Day,

or Nowruz,” Ferdowsi notes in Shahnameh.

sizdah-bedar 1


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