Contributed by Tarlan Ahmadov

The Novruz Festival is an ancient and favorite New Year’s holiday that marks the arrival of spring with the vernal equinox, which this year was on March 20-21. Novruz is celebrated by many people of Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Albania, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans, The holiday is observed over a period of several days, and preparation starts in early February.

The origin of Novruz dates back several millenniums to ancient customs and rituals associated with the cult of nature and fertility, as well as beliefs in nature’s decline and rise, and the elemental composition of the universe in water, fire, earth, and air (wind). Novruz Tuesdays (Charshanbas) are based on these four elements, with a celebration each Tuesday during the month before Novruz.

Novruz is kid-friendly, with many fun traditions and practices, such as planting wheatgrass, coloring eggs, preparing sweets, and jumping over bonfires. Novruz was inscribed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and the UN General Assembly declared March 21 International Novruz Day during its 64th session.

An essential part of the holiday is Khoncha (xonça) – a tray filled with sweets, nuts, and other treats. Neighbors, relatives, and friends send Khoncha to each other. On the second day of Novruz, people visit the graves of relatives and friends to honor their memory. In non-pandemic years, Novruz is also the time for mass gatherings and festivities, with Ashiq and folk music concerts. Ropewalkers demonstrate their skills and pehlevans (wrestlers) compete against each other. Comic performances based on two characters – Kos-Kosa (Goat Beard, representing winter) and Kechal (the Bald, representing spring), are held on the streets. In these comedies, Kechal always comes out a winner.

The most significant among Novruz Tuesdays is the last one, called “Akhir Charshanba.” On this day, the house is cleaned and a holiday meal prepared. Samani (green sprouting wheat), a symbol of Novruz that is grown in advance to be ready, is set on the table along with painted eggs and baked holiday sweets. Candles are lit and wishes made. The number of candles corresponds with the number of family members. In the evening, children put hats under the doors of their neighbors and hide, waiting for the hats to be filled with holiday treats. After sunset, people gather in the streets to kindle bonfires, dance, and jump over the fires to cleanse their souls and ward off evil spirits.

Those who observe Novruz were excited by President Joe Biden’s statement wishing all who celebrate the holiday greater peace, prosperity, and understanding in the spirit of this ancient, peaceful, and fun holiday that brings people closer, increases dialogue between civilizations, and promotes mutual understanding and cultural diversity.