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Azerbaijan: Novruz Bayram

Alongside Iran and elsewhere, Azerbaijan once again celebrated Novruz, the Zoroastrian or Persian New Year. Usually celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, Novruz marks the first day of Spring, and is one of the most important dates in the Azerbaijani calendar.

As was the case in previous years (see here, here, and here), foreigners blogging from Azerbaijan, as well as Azerbaijanis themselves, naturally introduced the holiday to readers outside of the country. The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter, for example, was one of many making posts in English:

I come from Azerbaijan, an ancient nation on the fiery coasts of the Caspian Sea. The sea coast is literally fiery, boasting some serious crude oil and gas reserves, with the flames naturally bursting from under the ground in certain places. It is for this reason that Azerbaijan was once a center of Zoroastrianism, and the Zoroastrian legacy lives with us to this day through a spring holiday Novruz, or “New Year” in Persian, celebrated on the spring equinox.

While the nation is what you would describe as secular Muslim, this pre-Muslim holiday is still the highest holiday in the calendar, and is the equivalent of the Christian Easter in celebrating Nature’s rebirth.

Azerbaijanis celebrate it by decorating their homes with the platters of sprouted wheat seed (basically pet grass) and a luscious feast featuring some of the nations’ favorite staples – meaty saffron pilafs and delicious middle-Eastern-style sweets, making it a bit of a Mardi Gras as well.

Ethnic Azeri Ashik (troubadour), Novruz in Marneuli, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2012

Meanwhile, Aran Erdebilli details how Novruz is celebrated in Azerbaijan:

Novruz was unofficially celebrated in the Soviet period, for the reason that the government prohibited the celebrations and pusuited people. Despite all that each Azerbaijan family followed the hundred years old traditions and celebrated Novruz.

Nature starts to wake in Novruz and Azerbaijan people demonstratively celebrate it month ago. On Tuesdays we celebrate Su Charshabnasi(water-Tuesday), Odlu Charshanba(fire- Tuesday),Torpag Charshanba (land-Tuesday) and Akhir Charshanba(final or wind- Tuesday).according to the folk belief water in the first Tuesday purifies and stirs, fire in the second Tuesday, land on the third Tuesday and wind in the fourth Tuesday awaken the nature, the trees begin to blossom; all this symbolize spring’s coming.

[…]

Celebrating Novruz people in the villages determine the peculiarity of the coming year: weather it will be either arid or rainy and determine the degree of productivity. According to the tradition the first day of Novruz symbolizes spring, second day after it is summer, the third day is autumn and the fourth is winter. If the first day is windless and arid, so the spring is going to be favourable for agricultural works, and if it is rainy and windy so the spring is expected to be the same. On the rest of the days they determined summer, autumn and winter.

Novruz is a joyful and lovely holiday.

Semeni, Azeri Novruz in Marneuli, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2012

Sensible and Sensitive, another Azerbaijani blog, also marked the event, explaining the preparation of semeni (wheat sprouts) and xoncha, a tray full of Novruz goodies:

Preparations; a thorough cleaning of house, growing ‘Semeni’(one of the symbols), preparing nuts to cook pakhlava, shekerbura (other symbols) start early, almost a month prior spring begins (20th March). Till that date by each Tuesday of upcoming month devoted to one of the elements –earth, water, wind and fire, you feel closer to upcoming spring. In my hometown-Ganja we celebrate on the 21st of March, however in Baku they do on the evening of 20th. Well, I can say we celebrate two days since we are going back and forth between Ganja and Baku for years.

Cleaning house might not be that much fun, but gathering around the table with cousins to clean nuts one by one was a lot of fun. I remember Mother growing Semeni in different plates for us and relatives. Seeing finally Semeni grows and decorating it with red ribbon was one of those small things that make you really happy on the holiday eve. Yes, decoration of Khoncha (one of the main symbols of the holiday) has already started. You put Khoncha in the middle of a tray, and go on with other elements of it.

And with this year's Eurovision Song Contest due to be staged in Azerbaijan, an introduction to the holiday was also featured in an official video from the competition's organizers.

As already mentioned, interest in Novruz isn't just confined to locals. Foreigners living in Azerbaijan also take a keen interest. Life on the Edge, a Peace Corps blog, details how the holiday was celebrated in the regions of the country:

So Novruz is this holiday in Azerbaijan that is essentially treated as their new year, because it is the beginning of spring, and so, it feels like a new year! The holiday has Zoroastrian roots, though some people here will tell you it's a Muslim holiday, so it's celebrated in Iran too…though I'm not sure how many other countries. I say, the holiday is a bizarre mix between Halloween and Easter.

The buildup starts four weeks before (a little reminiscent of lent), and each Tuesday is a celebration of the four elements, Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Depending on how traditional the family is, there may or may not be feasts and such on each of these nights.

March 19th/20th is when all the fun begins. On the 19th, after a great city celebration and picnic in the park, Mom and I were sitting innocently on the couch in our pj's watching 30 Rock when I hear a knock on the door and, “papoglari doldurun!” Translated to: Fill the hats. This little tradition is like ding/dong/ditch meets Trick or Treat. Kids run around the neighborhood with hats, throw them at the door, shout, “fill the hats” and then run and hide. The homeowner fills the hats with candy and sweets (yup, they put the buttery syrupy sweets right into the hat), and then closes the door. The kids run back to retrieve their sticky hats and goodies, and then move on to the next house. We were bombed by Jake and some of my students, and then later some rather greedy neighbors…

The 20th was the day I was most looking forward to. The 20th is technically Novruz Eve. […]

Azeri Novruz in Marneuli, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2012

Of course, Novruz is not just celebrated in Azerbaijan, but also among ethnic Azeris living in the U.S., Europe, and neighboring Georgia. Kurds and some ethnic Azeris from Iran also celebrate the holiday alongside other Iranians visiting Armenia especially for the holiday each year.

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