The Celebration of Nowruz

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With the arrival of the spring equinox, the Iranians all over the world, regardless of their religious belief or ethnic origin, celebrate Norouz over a period of thirteen days under Iranian ancient tradition. For the Iranian people the Norouz, which literally means in Persian as the dawn of a new day, is considered the most important celebration of the year, since it is the most important symbol of Iranian cultural and national identity, which has survived all adversities and adversaries.

Today the Iranian celebration of Norouz is not only held in Iran, but also in the former persian territories, which include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Dubai, Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan, Kazkstán, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The tradition of Nowruz has also gone beyond the Iranian cultural sphere and now also celebrated in territories like Crimea or the Balkan Peninsula.

The Iranian oral tradition places the celebration of this holiday more than 15,000 years back, before the last ice age ends. The mythical king Yima or Yama introduced this celebration in order to symbolize the transition from the mode of life of the first Indo-Iranian hunter-gatherers to shepherds. Seasons played such a vital role. Everything depended on the four seasons.

After a hard winter is the beginning of spring, a big event with Mother Nature, which rises in a green robe with colorful flowers and cattle, which gave birth to their young. It was the river of time. It is said that Yima is the person who introduced the ceremony observance of Nowruz. Unlike other major feasts of the country that are celebrated according to the lunar calendar, Nawroz follows the solar rhythm.

Prophet Zarathustra was the pre-Islamic Iranian cosmology architect, who originated the many celebrations, festivals, rituals to pay homage to the seven creations and holy immortals and Ahura Mazda. Among the 7 most important Zarathustrian festivals, the last and most detailed celebration was Nowruz, celebrating Ahura Mazda and the sacred fire at the vernal equinox.

After the establishment of Islam, Nowruz assumed a religious connotation, assimilated to the day of accession to the caliphate of Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad.

Spring Equinox, an astronomical event has always been considered key in the seasonal nature of humanity. In fact traces of rituals related to the equinoxes and solstices, dating back to the Neolithic, are found in the remains of monuments, stone circles, burial complex with rooms and corridors built in alignment with the rise and with the setting of the sun during the equinoxes and solstices.

The Assyrians and Babylonians gave great importance to the equinoxes, and in fact, the most important feast was the Babylonian New Year, the Akitu, which fell during the spring equinox. It lasted 12 days, in which the king, the son of God, regenerated and synchronized the rhythms of nature, the cosmos and of human society.

The Egyptian civilization, centered on the worship of the sun god Ra, the creator and ruler of the world, had the same precept to align temples and sacred buildings to the rising or setting of the sun during those special times of the year. The feast of the oldest spring in Egypt is the Sham El Nessim, dating back to about 4700 years ago, still preserved by the Egyptians of the Coptic religion. According to the ancient Egyptians, with the arrival of spring the cosmic egg shaped by Ptah, laid on the banks of the Nile and here hatched sacred goose, which opened up, letting out Ra, the sun. The river was living in symbiosis with sun god.

For the Celts the spring equinox marks the beginning of the bright half of the year. For this people, spring was the time of mating rituals, the sacred marriage in which the male and female principles were joining to propitiate fertility. These rituals were performed during Beltane, a party related to the lunar calendar, so the date, could fall from February to May.

Beltane or Beltaine or bright fire was a festival of rebirth, as opposed to Samhain, celebration of death, and was dedicated to the god Bel, and the god Cernunnos, god of nature, who was associated with reproduction and fertility. Beltaine is also the name of May in Ireland and is traditionally the first day of spring in Ireland.

From the tenth century Gaelic sources indicate that the Druids lit bonfires on top of the hills, leading the cattle of the village to cleanse it after winter in the stables. As a sign of good luck, it was also the time when the animals were brought to pasture after wintering. Even people crossed the burners for the same purpose. The sacred fire was the symbol of the celestial fire, the primordial heat which produced the creation and resurfaced at every return of spring.

Fire was able to destroy the hostile powers, purify the air, promote fertility of living beings because of this, people and objects, not only cattle, were passed through two fires. Then dances around bonfires followed characterized by great leaps to propitiate the good fortune to find a soulmate and to have children.

In Greece in spring they were celebrated Small Eleusinian Mysteries at Eleusis, a small city of Attica. The name means arrival because it is said that here came Demeter looking for her daughter Persephone, abducted by the god of the dead, Hades. The disappearance and return of Persephone were remembered with ceremonies that simulated the mystical death of nature, rebirth, fertility and generation.

In ancient Greece, for example, it was believed that Attis, lover of Cybele, the mother goddess, linked to soil fertility, rose again in the days vernal equinox , by returning the earth to bloom. It is no coincidence, therefore, if Attidiya were celebrated just in a period between March 15 to 28. In Athens, for the entire month of April, were held dances and songs for Theseus, considered a national hero, the one who had killed the Minotaur. To feed this monster, the King Minos annually demanded by the Athenians the horrendous toll of seven maidens and seven youths. The first ten days of April were dedicated to Feste Megalesia in honor of the Minotaur.

Cybele was the Great Mother among the primordial gods. Her cult was characterized originally by orgiastic and bloody ceremonies, which softened much later, when they spread to the whole of Greece. The Romans continued this tradition, enriching it with Megalenses Ludi, public games that followed the public sprinkling ritual, made with consecrated water, the statue of the Great Mother.

The Phrygian Attis is remarkably similar to Adonis, of Semitic origin deities which in turn dies and then rises again, by returning fertile land. This deity is called in other ways by people who shared the territory of the fertile crescent, for Jews it is a very old version of Adonai, the name used in the Bible to indicate the Lord.

In classical mythology, however, Adonis was the lover of Aphrodite, who could not endure his death and asked Zeus to allow him to return from Hades for half the year. This story is very similar to that of the Babylonian Tammuz and the consideration of the Sumerian Dumuzi. His mistress once a beautiful goddess and the great powers, Inanna, gave him the chance to pass only half of the afterlife, to return to the surface, just in time to take care of his fields and his herds, as Dumuzi was a shepherd king.

In each of these cases we find a nice-looking young man, a great goddess, who dies and then rises again, thanks to the intercession of his mistress, bringing the spring. All these young people, if you notice, have to do with the goats or sheep, who were pastors or lived together with the goats

In Rome, around the month of April was dedicated to the celebrations of the birthday of Apollo and Diana, in festivals like Fordicalie, which saw sacred cows sacrificed in honor of the goddess Earth. Even the spring equinox was Christianized. In fact, after the first full moon following the equinox, Christians celebrate the Passover, commemorating the Resurrection of Christ.

Easter, brings us back to an ancient pagan gods of the Nordic peoples, the goddess Eostre, who presided at the ancient cults linked to the coming of spring and fertility of the fields. A sacred Eostre was the hare that laid the egg of the new life to announce the rebirth of the year and the egg is certainly not chosen at random, as it has always been a symbol of life, creation and rebirth.

After the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century, a new ritual, a mixture of ancient and new traditions, known as Chahār Shanbeh Suri, was added. This is celebrated the night of Tuesday before the Norouz. A bonfire is prepared to celebrate the Chahār Shanbeh Suri, where people of all ages jump over the fire shouting zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man (my yellow is yours, your red is mine).

This ritual represents how bad luck is abandoned and destroyed by fire, and prosperity and happiness for the new year bestowed by the power of light, heat and cleanness of fire. Nevertheless, the preparations for the festival begin with fifteen days prior to planting seeds in one container shallow to be several inches of green for the celebration. Families in turn clean their homes in new clothes to symbolize the purification and the dawning of a new life.

On the night of Norouz families gather around the table of Norouz, which is prepared with seven members having the letter "S" in the Persian alphabet, serkeh (vinegar), Somaq (sumac), sir (garlic), samanu (sweet paste), sib (apple), senjed (the fruit of the jujube), sabzeh (seeds), sekkeh (coins) and sonbol (hyacinth). In addition to the seven "S", a number of other elements are prepared, including reading a sacred scripture revered by the family, or Persian poetry as Shahnama (The Book of Kings) and Divān-e Ḥāfeẓ, decorated boiled eggs, a mirror with lit candles as a symbol of fire and life, etc.

Traditionally the Norouz table was composed not only of seven "S" but essential objects reflecting the pastoral and sedentary conditions of the ancient Iranians and their beliefs, especially with regard to Zoroastrianism.

These special items for the celebration of Norouz are the eggs, milk, which represents cattle and Vohu Manah/Bahman (good mind), the mental capacity to understand Asha, that is, the nature of our world and recognize the resulting gap between the ideal and the real. The candles symbolize the purifying fire and the Asha Vahishtā/Ordibehesht (absolute truth, that is, the truth that describes how the world must be in its ideal form).

The coins represent wealth, prosperity and Khshathra Vairya/Shahrivar. The hyacinth symbolizes water and the willow musk the Spenta Ārmaiti/Spandārmaz (benevolence). The garlic, which according to the Zoroastrian tradition was estimated by the Iranians as a medicine and as a means to ward off the evil eye and demonic power. The samanu symbolizes fertility and the fish protects against harmful creatures. And the seeds represent the Haurvatat, that is the state of complete well-being, physical and spiritual integrity.

The whole of the table excites and involves all our senses, symbolizing everything that is good. The seeds are preserved until the Sizdah-bedar, the thirteenth day of the new year when families perform a picnic in nature. It is the day when the seeds must be thrown into the water so that lethargy, weakness and moderation are washed away. This day inaugurates a happy new year. Friends and neighbors often organize a picnic in the countryside where they eat noodle soups or rice dishes in sauce.

People go and see the streams and the rivers with an abundant flow as a result of the melted snow. Young people play sports and play traditional games, while girls intertwine fresh herbs, singing quietly: The thirteenth day, next year, at my husband's house, a baby in my hands. During the spring equinox was also recited by the older members of the families fragments of the Avesta, the sacred writing of Zoroastrianism. Moreover, in all the rites of Norouz is a feature that is constantly repeated, that is, the conflict between light and darkness.

It is no wonder that the legend attributes to the legendary king and divine hero Yima the invention of this feast, since it was he who triumphed over the forces of darkness.

Iranians, Afghans and other groups start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning their houses, buying new clothes to wear for the New Year and the purchase of flowers. Special hyacinth and tulip are popular and prominent.

In connection with the rebirth of nature is extended spring cleaning national tradition observed by almost all households in Iran. It is customary to buy at least a set of new clothes. New Year's Day takes families their new clothes and starts to celebrate the 12th day by visiting their elderly relatives, and so the rest of the family and finally their friends. On the 13th day, leaving families their homes and take on a picnic.

During Nowruz holidays it is required that people visit each other mostly family, friends and neighbors, which usually is reciprocated. Typically at Nowruz on the first day, gather family members around the table with the Haft Seen on the table or next to it and wait for the arrival of spring. Later they give gifts. The visits should be relatively short, since they would not have time to visit everyone on the list.

A typical visit lasts 30 minutes. Because of the visits, people make sure to have an adequate supply of cakes, cookies and dried fruits, which typically is served to guests with tea or sorbet. Many Iranians have large Nowruz celebrations in a central location. Some believe that no matter what a person does on Nowruz it will affect the rest of the year. So if a person is warm and kind to their relatives at Nowruz, it will be a good year. On the other hand, if there are fights and disagreements, the year will go bad.

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