Nowruz festival

The principles of this age-old celebration, which include taking a yearly inventory and reestablishing a connection with nature during a vulnerable period, are not becoming less significant.

With origins in the erstwhile Persian Empire, millions of people worldwide are celebrating Nowruz, an annual 13-day event that heralds the arrival of spring.

Once spanning from Egypt and the Balkan Peninsula in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east, Persia—anchored in modern-day Iran—left behind an enduring cultural heritage that includes this colorful festival. Despite the fact that Nowruz is 3,500 years old, its adherents think that its teachings—such as making an annual reset, appreciating family, and spending time in nature at a vulnerable period—are more relevant than ever.

Originally a Zoroastrian festival, Nowruz was observed by followers of the ancient monotheistic faith that was established by the prophet Zoroaster in 500 BCE. The rulers of all the subject nations were called to present presents and pay respects to the monarch at Persepolis, whose remains are still visible in the Iranian city of Shiraz, during the Persian Empire’s reign (c. 559–331) on the occasion of Nowruz. The monarchs were able to demonstrate to their forefathers that they were doing well, which is still a significant part of the celebration.

For centuries, Zoroastrianism served as the recognized state religion of the Persian Empire. However, it was eventually replaced by Islam following the Arab conquest in about 632 CE. However, Nowruz was firmly established and continued to exist even during the Islamic era. Over time, it changed into a secular festival that was observed by people of all religions, including Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Today, groups of people living in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world celebrate Nowruz, including diaspora populations in these regions as well as Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and other formerly Persian-influenced nations.

Nowruz Culture
People sprout lentils and wheat during the weeks before Nowruz, mirroring the shoots and buds emerging outside (Credit: Vera Chitaeva/Getty Images)

Nowruz has become accepted in the Western mainstream as these customs have grown. Disney published a Nowruz explanation Animation with Mickey Mouse last year. Nowruz food tales and recipes may be found on a regular basis in major American periodicals. And this year, Nowruz celebrations will be held in Berlin, Paris, and London by the traveling dance party Disco Tehran, which is fueled by its popularity in Los Angeles and New York.

At the exact time of the spring equinox, when the sun crosses the equator on its trip north, Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian, begins. This year, it begins in Tehran at 06:36 on March 20, in London at 03:06, and in New York at 23:06 on March 19.

Everywhere in the world, there are distinct Nowruz customs. Mewa is a dessert consumed in Afghanistan that consists of seven types of dried fruits and nuts steeped in syrup. Before the clock strikes the new year, containers are positioned throughout the home and filled with water in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Additionally, Afghans who ride horses participate in buzkashi, a national sport that is akin to polo but uses a goat’s body in place of a ball.

It acts as the link that unites all Iranians and is more than just a celebration of the new year.

Nowruz event
Fire and fireworks are an important part of the Nowruz celebrations (Credit: Nima Karimi/Getty Images)

Nowruz’s ongoing popularity, according to Haleh Esfandiari, founding head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, is due to its friendly and inclusive attitude. Because it is a national, rather than a religious, holiday, it is more than just a celebration of the new year; it acts as the thread that unites all Iranians. Nowruz is celebrated by Iranians of all faiths, ethnicities, and tribes, she noted.

Nowruz is a symbol of rebirth and fresh starts. Though the Nowruz celebration falls on the equinox, planning starts weeks in advance. Having a clean house and a clear conscience are essential for starting the new year off correctly.

Where to celebrate Nowruz

Cities with sizable Persian populations in Iran and the diaspora, such as Dubai, Toronto, London, New York, and Los Angeles, offer opportunities for commemorating and educating oneself on the occasion. As an illustration:

  • Starting on March 22, Disco Tehran will host dance events in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris.
  • On March 17, take the family to Parramatta, Sydney, for a day of Nowruz celebrations.
  • Lauderdale House in London is holding a month-long Nowruz event that includes discussions, music, and displays.

The first step is to thoroughly clean the house; this is known as khoone takoone, or “shaking the house” in Persian. It’s also crucial to settle unresolved grievances by giving the offended party ajeel, a concoction of nuts and dried fruit. It is traditional to sprout wheat and lentils in the weeks before, in line with the shoots and buds that emerge outdoors. Then, on the Wednesday before Nowruz, everyone leaps over a bonfire—grandparents included. This is to get rid of anything negative from the previous year.

With its positive theme of fresh starts, Nowruz provides a great chance to rejuvenate. Yasmin Khan, a British presenter and cookbook author whose mother is Iranian, views it as the beginning of a new year. “I gain a lot of strength from the rituals and symbolism of the spring cleaning, the growing of the sprouts, jumping over fires,” she stated. “They give me a sense of grounding, connecting me to my ancestral culture and also to the seasons and the elements.”

On Nowruz, families honor one another and their ancestors as well as the living by getting together for meals and visits. The social connection is the most significant aspect of Nowruz, according to Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Anna Fahr. This is particularly true in light of the COVID-19 epidemic. Conversations are enjoyable for me. It’s a good excuse to get back in touch with my family,” she said. “We perform an online fire jump with pals who live elsewhere. Each of us will light a candle in our flat, and we’ll all leap over it together. It’s largely about getting together as a community. Getting together with friends and relatives.”

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It’s traditional to pack a picnic, travel into the countryside on the last day of Nowruz, and throw the wheat and lentil sprouts into flowing water to mark the end of the previous year. After a long winter, it’s a day to spend outdoors enjoying nature. Nowruz serves as a reminder of our symbiotic link with the natural world, according to Persis Karim, director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University. “The transition of the seasons at the same time each year has been imprinted in us through this ritualised holiday,” she stated.

Reza EstakhrianGetty Images
On the 13th day of Nowruz, it’s customary for everyone to spend time away from their home in the open air (Credit: Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images)

But the manner that people have celebrated Nowruz for thousands of years is changing as a result of climate change, and this indisputable proof may act as a catalyst to get people to pay attention. “Everywhere you look there are rising temperatures, lack of water, the depletion of natural species,” Karim said. “Blossoms are opening much sooner. The fact that Nowruz is under danger these days may have to do with our growing awareness of the planet’s vulnerability and our role in it.”

Nowruz is now in some ways under threat, and it could be linked to an understanding about the vulnerability of our planet and our participation in that vulnerability

The life-affirming aspect of the festival customs is perhaps what matters most to Nowruz celebrants in an era when worries about things like social isolation, global politics, and climate change may be debilitating. Television producer Rebecca Rahimi, who lives in New York, sees Nowruz as an opportunity to take it easy and enjoy life. “Spring has arrived, the sun is shining, and we feel connected to the planet.” It’s expected of you to have a picnic in the park. There’s a feeling of liberation,” she clarified.

Rahimi has a strong bond with the occasion and always participates in the festivities, even when she is not with her family. Every year, I gather my non-Persian friends and we head to Disco Tehran. I love it!” she said.

Nowruz in 2024 may provide its celebrants a brief period of tranquility as the holiday begins in the midst of widespread turmoil throughout the world.

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