Spring 2003 (11.1)
Essay - Readers Capture the Spirit of Novruz
Click on photos to enlarge
Novruz couldn't come too soon this
year, especially with the cold weather that many in the northern
climes were experiencing, including the Caspian region. Another
dampening factor was that U.S.-led forces began bombing Iraq,
a neighbor in the region. Again we invited our readers to send
us photos that would capture the spirit of this event - the celebration
of Spring on March 21st. Here are some of the best entries that
we received. Most of the photos are from Baku, a few are from
Novruz, First Day
by Aynura Huseinova
Novruz, the celebration of the
Spring Equinox - March 20 or 21 - has come once again, bringing
with it the refreshing spirit of hope and renewal. This is the
most beloved holiday for Azerbaijanis, as well as others living
in the region, especially those in Iran and Central Asia. For
Azerbaijanis of the Republic, Novruz indicates the beginning
of Spring. In Iran, this holiday which is called "Noruz"
means "New Day" and marks the first day of the calendar
Novruz is associated with many traditions. Before the holiday
arrives, women do a major annual house-cleaning. Two or three
weeks before the big event, most families start to grow a plate
of "samani" ("sabzi" in Iran) - sprouted
grains, such as wheat or lentils. This green symbolizes their
hope for an abundant harvest in the coming year.
Novruz is a favorite holiday because of the special home-made
pastries that are prepared (shakarbura, shorgoghal, and pakhlava
/ baklava). Pilaf (rice) is one of the main dishes for the Novruz
dinner. Also plates of "govurgha" (toasted wheat) are
mixed with nuts (mainly walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts)
and placed on the table along with sweets.
"Khoncha" (a tray with sweets, nuts fruits and dyed
eggs on) is a part of the holiday table among Azerbaijanis in
the Republic. Sour or bitter things are not included on the khoncha.
Samani always is the dominant feature.
In Iran, where an estimated 25 to 30 million Azerbaijanis live,
the families traditionally prepare a holiday table that includes
seven items ("haft sin") which start with the Persian
letter "sin" or "s". However, this practice
is not followed in the Republic any more, perhaps because during
much of the Soviet period (1920-1991), Novruz was officially
banned and the tradition may have been lost.
Novruz is known as the time of year when people try to mend relations
with each other, especially if they have had quarrels during
the past year and are not on speaking terms with someone. So
this is a chance to renew friendships and to strengthen relationships.
That's why this holiday is associated with love. Families visit
each other and take the home-made pastries and sweets as gifts.
Young people especially go out of their way to visit and pay
respect to elder members of the community.
Some traditions are associated with superstition. The most famous
is "gapipusdu". Young girls make a wish and then go
to listen at a neighbors' door. According to the nature of the
first word they hear, the girl will interpret whether her wish
is likely to come true or not.
Children especially love this
holiday and can hardly wait for it to come. In addition to enjoying
many home-made sweets and getting new clothes for the holiday,
they love the tradition of "papagatdi". This practice
is similar to Halloween in the West but simpler. Children join
their friends and place their hats in front of their neighbors'
doors, knock and run away to hide. When the owner opens the door,
they see the caps and usually fill them with sweets, toasted
wheat, candy and fruits, which the children share among each
Another favorite activity for kids is jumping over the bonfires
on the Tuesday prior to Novruz. They say this symbolizes leaving
the pain and grief behind and starting the new year afresh.
Novruz was forbidden during the Soviet regime in Azerbaijan Republic
because it was considered a national holiday, specific to only
a few countries and not the entire USSR and therefore it was
perceived as devisive. Now that Azerbaijan has gained its independence
in late 1991, the holiday has been revived and is celebrated
openly in the streets once again. No one knows how old this holiday
is. Most people would say this wonderful season has been celebrated
for hundreds, perhaps, even thousands of years.
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AI 11.1 (Spring 2003)
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