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HAPPY NOROUZ, The Persian New Year
Norouz (Persian: نوروز , various local pronunciations and spellings) is the traditional Iranian new year holiday in Iran, Azarbaijan, 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. In Iran it is celebrated by all Iranians regardless of their ethnic or religious background . 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 . It is celebrated on March 21st .
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").
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 celebrations.
Prophet 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.
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. 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.
Extensive records on the celebration of Norouz appear following the accession of Ardashir I of Persia, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 AD). Under the Sassanid emperors, Norouz was celebrated as the most important day of the year. Most royal traditions of Norouz such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanian era and they persisted unchanged until modern times.
Norouz, along with Sadeh (that is celebrated in mid-winter), survived in society following the introduction of Islam in 650 AD. Other celebrations such Gahanbar and Mehragan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians, who carried them as far as Turkey. Norouz, however, was most honored even by the early founders of Islam. There are records of the Four Great Caliphs presiding over Norouz celebrations, and it was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.
Following the demise of the Caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Norouz was elevated to an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sasanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the Caliphate. Even the Turkish and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Norouz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Norouz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.
Omar Khayyam in his Norouznama has written a vivid description of the celebration in ancient Persian.
“ From the era of Keykhosrow till the days of Yazdegard, last of the
pre-Islamic kings of Persia, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year, Nau Ruz, the King's first visitor was the High Priest of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring, some gold coins, a fistful of green sprigs of wheat, a sword, a bow and a handsome slave. In the language of Persia he would then glorify God and praise the monarch.. This was the address of the High Priest to the king : "O Majesty, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush, the Angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestes and the exercise of justice and righteousness. May thy soul flourish; may thy youth be as the new-grown grain; may thy horse be puissant, victorious; thy sword bright and deadly against foes; thy hawk swift against its prey; thy every act straight as the arrow's shaft. Go forth from thy rich throne, conquer new lands. Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth. May thy house prosper and thy life be long!"
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).
Norouz in modern Iran
In Iran, preparations for Norouz begin in Esfand (or Espand), the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar.
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.
The Haft Sîn
Main article: Haft sin table
The Traditional Haft SînHaft 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
* 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)
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.
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.
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.
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. Another tradition associated with this day is "Dorugh-e Sizdah," literally meaning "the Lie of the thirteenth" and is the process of lying to someone and making them believe it, the same as April fools day. Interestingly, often the 13th day of the New Year Festival falls on the 1st of April.