Azerbaijan International

Spring 2003 (11.1)

Celebrating Novruz
Photo 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 the States.

Novruz, First Day of Spring
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 year.

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 other.

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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