A Brand New Day: Celebrating Spring with Newroz

By Ilgin Beygo Yorulmaz

For thousands of years, people who live deep in the mountains of modern day Iran have been telling the tale of an Assyrian tyrant-king named Zahak.  Influenced by the malign spirit Ahriman, Zahak oppresses his people viciously. His tyranny is such that it is attributed to the death of life, making it appear to be an eternal winter.

According to the tale, the people unite under the leadership of a hero named Kaveh, and, aided by the power of the nature, defeat Zahak, ending winter and starting spring.

This auspicious event is called “Newroz”.

“Newroz”, or “Nowroz”, which comes from the words “no”, meaning new, and “roz” (or “roj,” in Kurdish) meaning day, means ‘new day’ and refers to the return of spring. The day marks the New Year in Persian culture and falls on the Spring Equinox.  Celebrations start on the evening of March 20th, with the beginning of spring fittingly marking a ‘new year.”  The ancient Indo-Persian cultural tradition has roots in pre-Islamic times and draws from Zoroastrian traditions. In particular, the use of fire indicates a link to Zoroastrian traditions.

The legend has it that when Kaveh defeats Zahak, he sets fire to the hillsides to celebrate his victory. It has since become customary to light bonfires during Newroz and to jump across them. Newroz reinforces community solidarity.Through entertainment such as games, dancing, family gathering, preparation of special foods and the reading of poetry by the entire village or neighborhood,

Newroz is also a time of purification — an embodiment of Iranian aesthetics and beauty. During that time people set their tables with decorations called “haftsin“. The word means arrangement of seven foods beginning with S: sprouts (“sabzeh”), wheat pudding (“samanu”), dried oleaster (“senjed”), garlic (“sir”), apples (“sib”), vinegar (“serkeh”) and sumac fruit (“sumac”).

The festival signifies hope and marks the transition from the severity and grayness of winter to the warmth and greenness of summer — a time when the shepherd can undertake his annual journey to mountain pastures and the farmer can begin cultivation of the soil.

Embedded in the spiritual composition and psyche of all kinds of people of ancient Persian origin, today, Newroz is celebrated as a secular festival by a diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Newroz Mubarak!

Ilgin Beygo Yorulmaz is Editorial Intern at Voices

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