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‘Nowruz’ ( literally “New Day”) is the name of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by Iranian peoples, along with some other ethno-linguistic groups, as the beginning of the New Year.
It has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Asia. It marks the first day of Farvardin in the Iranian calendar.
Nowruz is the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day, depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals.
Although having Iranian and religious Zoroastrian origins, Nowruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethno-linguistic communities for thousands of years. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians.
Nowruz is partly rooted in the religious tradition of Iranian religions such as Zoroastrianism or even older in tradition of Mitraism because in Mitraism festivals had a deep linkage with the sun light. The Persian festivals of Yalda (longest night) and Mehregan (autumnal equinox) and Tiregān (longest day) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Persia (modern day Iran & Western Afghanistan). Nowruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself in Balkh (modern-day Afghanistan), although there is no clear date of origin. Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox. Nowruz is also a holy day for Sufi Muslims, Bektashis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, Babis and adherents of the Bahá’í Faith.
The term Nowruz in writing first appeared in historical Persian records in the 2nd century CE, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 550–330 BCE), where kings from different nations under the Persian Empire used to bring gifts to the Emperor, also called King of Kings (Shahanshah), of Persia on Nowruz. The significance of Nowruz in the Achaemenid Empire was such that the great Persian king Cambyses II’s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimized only after his participation in the New Year festival (Nowruz).
Nowruz in contemporary world
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Central Asian and Caucasus countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday. The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognized the International Day of Nowruz, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2009, Nowrūz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The term Nowruz is a Persian compound word and consists of:
now (Old Persian nava) means “new”, descends from Proto-Indo-European *néṷos and has the following cognates: in Latin novus, German neu, Sanskrit náva, Russian novyj etc. The Persian pronunciation differs in the many dialects of the language: while the eastern dialects have preserved the original diphthong (IPA: [næuˈɾoːz]), the western dialects usually pronounce it with a different diphthong (IPA: [nouˈɾuːz]), and some colloquial variants (such as the Tehrani accent) pronounce it with a monophthong (no; IPA: [noːˈɾuːz]).
rūz (for variant pronunciations see above) means “day” in Modern Persian, as did Middle Persian lwc (pronounced rōz or rōj). The original meaning of the word, however, was “light”. The term is descended from Proto-Iranian *raučah- (compare Avestan raocah “light; day”), itself derived from Proto-Indo-European *leṷk-, and is related to Sanskrit rúci, Latin lux, Armenian loys, Slovenian luč and, in fact, English light.
Nowruz and the spring equinox
The first day on the Iranian calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring, around 20 March. At the time of the equinox, the sun is observed to be directly over the equator, and the north and south poles of the Earth lie along the solar terminator; sunlight is evenly divided between the north and south hemispheres.
In around the 11th century CE major reforms of the Iranian calendars took place and whose principal purpose were to fix the beginning of the calendar year, i.e. Nowrūz, at the vernal equinox. Accordingly, the definition of Nowruz given by the Iranian scientist Ṭūsī was the following: “the first day of the official new year [Nowruz] was always the day on which the sun entered Aries before noon”.
History and tradition
Tradition and mythology
The celebration has its roots in Ancient Iran. Due to its antiquity, there exist various foundation myths for Nowruz in Iranian mythology. In the Zoroastrian tradition, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the Gahambars and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce,
“ It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself. ”
Between sunset on the day of the 6th Gahanbar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan) was celebrated. This and the Gahanbar are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.
The Shahnameh dates Nowruz as far back to the reign of Jamshid, who in Zoroastrian texts saved mankind from a killer winter that was destined to kill every living creature. The mythical Persian King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) perhaps symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. In the Shahnameh and Iranian mythology, he is credited with the foundation of Nowruz. In the Shahnama, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above 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 about him and scattered jewels around him, and called this day the New Day or No/Now-Ruz. This was the first day of the month of Farvardin (the first month of the Persian calendar).
The Persian scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni of the 10th century CE, in his Persian work “Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim” provides a description of the calendar of various nations. Besides the Persian calendar, various festivals of Arabs, Jews, Sabians, Greeks and other nations are mentioned in this book. In the section on the Persian calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tiregan, Mehregan, the six Gahanbar, Parvardegaan, Bahmanja, Isfandarmazh and several other festivals. According to him: It is the belief of the Persians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion. The Persian historian Abu Saʿīd Gardēzī in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster highly emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehregan.
HistoryAlthough it is not clear whether proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that both Iranians and Indians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, respectively, for the celebration of new year.
Boyce and Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment: “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”.
We have reasons to believe that the celebration is much older than that date and was surely celebrated by the people and royalty during the Achaemenid times (555–330 BC). It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient Iranian 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 Nowruz. Although there may be no mention of Nowruz in recorded Achaemenid inscriptions (see picture), there is a detailed account by Xenophon of a Nowruz celebration taking place in Persepolis and the continuity of this festival in the Achaemenid tradition.
in 539 BC the Jews came under Persian rule thus exposing both groups to each other’s customs. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther is adapted from a Persian novella about the shrewdness of harem queens suggesting that Purim may be a transformation of the Persian New Year. A specific novella is not identified and Encyclopædia Britannica itself notes that “no Jewish texts of this genre from the Persian period are extant, so these new elements can be recognized only inferentially”. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics notes that the Purim holiday is based on a lunar calendar while Nowruz occurs at the spring equinox (solar calendar). The two holidays are therefore celebrated on different dates but within a few weeks of each other, depending on the year. Both holidays are joyous celebrations. Given their temporal associations, it is possible that the Jews and Persians of the time may have shared or adopted similar customs for these holidays. The story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther has been dated anywhere from 625–465 BC (although the story takes place with the Jews under the rule of the Achaemenid Empire and the Jews had come under Persian rule in 539 BC), while Nowruz is thought to have first been celebrated between 555–330 BC. It remains unclear which holiday was established first.
Nowruz was the holiday of Arsacid/Parthian dynastic Empires who ruled Iran (248 BC-224 CE) and the other areas ruled by the Arsacid dynasties outside Parthia (such as the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia and Iberia). There are specific references to the celebration of Nowruz during the reign of Vologases I (51–78 CE), but these include no details. Before Sassanids established their power in West Asia around 300 CE, Parthians celebrated Nowruz in Autumn and 1st of Farvardin began at the Autumn Equinox. During Parthian dynasty the Spring Festival was Mehragan, a Zoroastrian and Iranian festival celebrated in honor of Mithra.
Extensive records on the celebration of Nowruz appear following the accession of Ardashir I of Persia, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (224–651 CE). Under the Sassanid Emperors, Nowruz was celebrated as the most important day of the year. Most royal traditions of Nowruz such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanian era and persisted unchanged until modern times.
Nowruz, along with Sadeh (celebrated in mid-winter), survived in society following the introduction of Islam in 650 CE. Other celebrations such Gahanbar and Mehragan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians, who carried them. It was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.
In the book Nowruznama (“Book of the New Year”, which is attributed to Omar Khayyam, a well known Persian poet and mathematician), a vivid description of the celebration in the courts of the Kings of Persia is provided:
“ From the era of Kai Khusraw 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, Now Ruz, the King’s first visitor was the High Mobad 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, and a bow. In the language of Persia he would then glorify God and praise the monarch. This was the address of the High Mobad 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 gestures 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!” ”
Following the demise of the Caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Nowruz was elevated to an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sassanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the Caliphate. According to the Syrian historian Yaqut al-Hamawi, the Iranian Buyid ruler ʿAżod-od-Dawla (r. 949-83) customarily welcomed Nowruz in a majestic hall, wherein servants had placed gold and silver plates and vases full of fruit and colorful flowers. The King would sit on the royal throne (masnad), and the court astronomer came forward, kissed the ground, and congratulated him on the arrival of the New Year. The king would then summon musicians and singers, and invited his boon companions. They would gather in their assigned places and enjoy a great festive occasion.
Even the Turkic and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Nowruz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Nowruz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.
The festival of Nowruz is celebrated by many groups of people in the Middle East, Caucasus, Central and South Asia, but particularly by Persians and various other Iranian peoples. It is called Naw-wradz or Nuway-kāl by the Pashtuns, Navroz by Zoroastrians of the subcontinent, Nevruz in Turkic, Uyghurs who live in Northwestern China call it “Noruz”, and it is called Sultan Nevruz in Albanian. In Kurdish communities located in parts of western Iran, the holiday is referred to as Newroz, which is a variety of the Persian word Nowruz. The variety Nawroz is also an Eastern Persian word and is also used in the Persian speaking regions of Central Asia. In Pashto language it is pronounced as – “Naw-Wraz” (New Day).
Nowruz Around the world
Nowruz is celebrated in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Black Sea basin, the Balkans, and by Iranians worldwide. It is a public holiday in Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Albania, Kosovo, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Also the Canadian parliament by unanimous consent, has passed a bill to add Nowruz to the national calendar of Canada, on March 30, 2009.
In Albania Sultan Nevruz is celebrated as a mainly mystical day by the Bektashi sect, and there are special ceremonies in the Tekke led by the clergy and large meals are served there. They celebrate this day as the birthday of Ali. Also all Albanians celebrate a secular version of Nowruz, called Spring Day. Nowruz is also celebrated by Kurdish people in Iraq and Turkey as well as by the Parsis in the Indian subcontinent.
Other notable celebrations take place by Iranians around the world, such as Los Angeles, Toronto, Cologne and in United Kingdom, mainly in London. 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 living in Southern California go to the beaches to celebrate the event where it is permissible to build fires. On 15 March 2010, The United States House of Representatives passed The Nowruz Resolution (H.Res. 267), by a 384–2 vote, “Recognizing the cultural and historical significance of Nowruz, … .”.
In Iran, some elements of the system attempted to suppress Nowruz following the Iranian Revolution with very little success. These considered Nowruz a pagan holiday and a distraction from more important things such as religious holidays. At the same time, there exist narrations in the Islamic Shia literature about the merits of the day of Nowruz, including the fact that the Day of Ghadir was on that day, and also the recommendation to fast on the day of Nowruz, the latter appearing in the fatwas of major Shia scholars. Nowruz is also a holy day for Alawites, Alevis, and adherents of the Bahá’í Faith. Countries that have Nowruz as a public holiday include the following:
￼ Afghanistan (21 March)
￼ Albania (22 March)
￼ Azerbaijan (20 March to 26 March, total of 7 days)
￼ Kosovo (21 March)
￼ Kyrgyzstan (21 March)
￼ Iran (20 March to 24 March, total of 5 days in general + total of 14 days for schools and universities)
￼ Iraq (de jure in ￼ Iraqi Kurdistan, de facto national) (21 March)
￼ Kazakhstan (21 March to 24 March, total of 4 days)
￼ Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia (22 March, regional state holiday only)
￼ Tajikistan (20 March to 23 March, total of 4 days)
￼ Turkmenistan (20 March to 23 March, total of 4 days)
￼ Uzbekistan (21 March)
Nowruz in the Zoroastrian faith
Zoroastrians worldwide celebrate Nowruz as the first day of the New Year. Parsi Zoroastrians of Central Asian origin celebrate it as “Nowroj”, “Navroz”, or “Navroj” on the fixed day of March 21, while Zoroastrians of Iranian background generally celebrate, like other Iranians, on the actual Spring Equinox date. Because different Zoroastrian communities in India/Pakistan and Iran have evolved slightly different calendar systems, there is some variance. Adherents of the Fasli variant of the Zoroastrian calendar celebrate Nowruz in March, but today, most other Zoroastrians also celebrate on this day.
Other variants of the Zoroastrian calendar celebrate the Nowruz twice: once as Jamshedi Nowruz on March 21 as the start of spring, and a second Nowruz, in July/August (see Variations of the Zoroastrian calendar), as either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. That the second Nowruz is celebrated after the last day of the year, known as Pateti, which comes after a Muktad period of days remembering the dead. Many Parsis are confused by this, and mistakenly celebrate Pateti as if it were Nowruz, when in fact Nowruz is the day after. Some attribute this confusion by some as celebrating 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.
Zoroastrians of Iranian origin generally put up a Haft Sheen table while Muslim Iranians put up Haft Seen table. The difference is because Muslims can not put wine (Sharab) on the table. Zoroastrians of Parsi (South Asian) origin do not traditionally use a Haft Seen. They set up a standard “sesh” tray – generally a silver tray, with a container of rose water, a container with betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a picture of Zarathustra and either a floating wick in a glass filled with water topped with oil for fuel, or an “afargania”, a silver urn with a small fire nourished by sandalwood and other fragrant resins.
Nowruz celebration in Iran
Hajji Firuz is the traditional herald of Nowruz. He oversees celebrations for the new year perhaps as a remnant of the ancient Zoroastrian fire-keeper.
His face is painted black (black is an ancient Persian symbol of good luck) 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.
Spring cleaning and visiting one another
Spring cleaning, or “Khouneh Tekouni” (literally means ‘shaking the house’) or ‘complete cleaning of the house’ is commonly performed before Nowruz. Persians and Kurdish and Azerbaijanis start preparing for the Nowruz with a major spring-cleaning of their house, 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 Iran. 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 home and picnic outdoor, as part of the Sizdah Be-dar ceremony.
During the Nowruz holidays, people are expected to visit one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbors) in the form of short house visits, which are usually reciprocated. Typically, on the first day of Nowruz, 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. When in previous year a family member is deceased, the tradition is to visit that family first (among the elders). The visits naturally have to be relatively short, otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on its 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 Nowruz parties in a central location as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.
Some Nowruz celebrants believe that whatever a person does on Nowruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Nowruz, 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. As an extended tradition to the holiday, men may or may not choose to shave their faces until the night of the “New Day” as a sign of removal of old habits and tendencies and the rebirth of their faith and being.
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.
Haft Seen , also spelled or the seven ‘S’s is a major traditional table setting of Nowruz, the traditional Iranian spring celebration. The haft-Seen table includes seven items starting with the letter ‘S’ or “Seen” in the Persian alphabet.
The custom and the traditional practice of Haft-Seen has been changed over the past millennium. The term was initially Haft Chin – Chin meaning “to place” and Haft , the number 7. “Haft Chin” was pronounced or Arabized later as “Haft-Seen”. The items traditionally were set on a Sofra (table cloth) but now are mostly set on a dinner table. Haft-Sin (the 7 s) The Haft Sīn table or Nowrouz sofra has 2 groups of items. One group is only of symbolic or iconic items and can include : :
The Haft Sīn items are:
Sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing green environment, happiness and rebirth.
Samanu – a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat – symbolizing affluence.
Senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing firmness and tolerance.
Sīr – garlic – symbolizing health.
Sīb – apples – symbolizing beauty and love.
Somaq – sumac berries –symbolizing patience.
Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing development and evolution.
Other symbolic items can be :
Sekkeh – Coins – representing wealth
Lit candles – enlightenment and sunrise.
a Mirror – symbolizing cleanliness and honesty
Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family – fertility
A bowl of water with goldfish 
Rosewater – purity and cleanness.
The national colours – for a patriotic touch
A holy book and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafiz)
B – The second groups of items on the table are for offering to guests to eat and may include:
Samanu – a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat – symbolizing affluence
Traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi-, Persian sweet , Gotaab,Kaak(cake) and klouche.
Aajeel – dried fruits, pistachio, walnuts, pine nuts, berries, and raisins.