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Azerbaijan: Novruz Bayramı

Novruz, a holiday celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan and other countries, was once again also observed in Azerbaijan on 21 March although festivities started weeks before as previous posts on Global Voices here and here detailed. This year was no different and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in the former Soviet republic once again commented on the event. ALOINK IN AZERBAIJAN, a PCV based in the regional city of Lankaran, introduces its readers to Novruz.

Happy Novruz, everybody! March 20th and 21st are the two days that Novruz is officially celebrated to bring in the new year. There are a lot of traditions that go along with this holiday, and lots of fun as well. A lot of families grow a kind of grass that kind of look like sprouts, each year and plant them in their yard for new beginnings. […] The grass is grown kind of in a similar way as a Chia Pet, with the seeds placed on some soil in a dish, covered with a thin piece of cloth, and watered until they have grown. The main difference, of course, is that this isn’t grown in the shape of an animal or anything like that. Just the shape of the dish, usually kind of roundish.

Another tradition that you can probably guess at is the food. As I may have mentioned, Lankaran has a famous dish called lavangi which is like stuffing for chicken or fish. It’s very delicious and one of my favorite meals, if not the favorite. So they cook a bunch of rice with sweet raisins on it and serve fish and chicken lavangi, and some other stuff that I’m not sure the name of. It’s all good, although I tend to stay away from the fish if given a choice. Just a personal preference. They also cook a bunch of sweets and cakes for dessert that are always good and I do believe I ate myself stupid with all the chicken, rice and desserts that I ate.

[…]

This is one of the biggest holidays and everyone gets all geared up for it, which makes it a lot of fun. Also, we don’t have work for four days, and who doesn’t enjoy that? […]

Ethnic Azeri child in traditional costume for Novruz © Onnik Krikorian

The Labors of Other Men also notes some similarities with traditions back home such as Easter and Trick or Treet during Halloween.

This Azeri holiday is a reminder of the culture's Zoroastrian roots – a celebration of new life through the worship of water, fire, earth, and wind. The unofficial celebrations begin the first Tuesday of March with plov (a national dish – mainly rice) and fire jumping – literally. That continues each Tuesday until the fourth week (20th – 28th), during which everyone is off of work and there are family and community celebrations. Some of the traditions of Novruz are: the growing of samani (wheat grass) to symbolize the coming of new life with the beginning of Spring, “Spring” cleaning to get rid of the old and start clean and new, egg dying – after which you play a little game where two people bash their boiled / dyed eggs together and whoever has the dud (the one that gets crunched) loses their egg, door-to-door candy collection – boys go around to their neighbors houses, take off their caps and put them on the doorstep, knock on the door and run…the caps are filled with candy, and the boys come back to pick them up after the door is closed again – sound familiar-ish? I'm sure there's plenty I'm leaving out, but you get the picture..

East Meets West Meets Girl touches upon the preparations.

With the weather being so nasty, the electricity is also being finicky coming and going without a moment’s notice. The fickle electricity has the women in town in a panic as they try to bake for the upcoming holiday: Novruz – the celebration of the new year/spring. Novruz is this week; and it is a holiday which you cannot ignore nor want to ignore it. Novruz combines all elements of Azerbaijani culture and places them prettily on a khoncha. A khoncha is the centrepiece of the Novruz table. […] Everything in the khoncha has meaning and despite how random, odd, or contradicting an item may seem, they find a way to be together. Family is a central to Azerbaijani culture. They take care of each other, and once adopted into an Azerbaijani family, you will always be family. According to Azerbaijanis, those who are not home/in a home for Novruz/the New Year will be homeless for seven years. The growing grass and dyed eggs point to Azerbaijan’s Zoroastrian past. Jumping over the bonfire seven times comes from Islamic tradition. Sweet making becomes neighbourhood activity with the women spending hours helping each other make hundreds and hundreds of sweets. Nuts, which are ridiculous to crack, symbolize the hardness of life here from time to time, but there is a reward to persistence. And of course, the hardworking women and girls of Azerbaijan do most of these preparations.

It also wasn't just among Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan where Novruz was celebrated. Are you there, Marina? It's me, Jefferson commented on the holiday in the mainly ethnic Azeri town of Marneuli in Georgia where it was also recognized as an official holiday.

So Monday is Novruz Bayram, the Azeri celebration of spring and the New Year. […] A famous Azeri pop singer, Manana, is coming, along with the Georgian and Azeri presidents to my town! They’re doing a sneak-peek at the new sports complex, funded by the Azeri government, along with celebrating this holiday. They have been trimming all the trees, repainting road markings and anything else that needs painting, and cleaning. Slowly, my town is getting a little facelift. I talked with one of my students, and I’m so stoked to possibly get a membership to this new gym, if it will be affordable!

[…]

There is only so much time in a day, and I’m glad to say that I feel like I’m maximizing it. Happy Novruz to you all!

Global Voices Caucasus’ Editor would especially like to thank the last blogger for his hospitality while visiting Marneuli to photograph Novruz. Some of the images are below.

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