Originally posted on http://www.pomegranateveils.com
I have March 20 and 21 off work thanks to the Nowruz (also spelled as norooz and pronounced as NO-ROOZ) which marks the beginning of the Persian year 1390; the day is sometimes called Mela-E-Samanak here in Afghanistan. Here in Kabul, the new year begins at precisely 3:40:45 AM on Monday 21 March 2011. I am enjoying having two days off in a row for the first time since January. I am also enjoying the lovely spring weather as much as I can given my limited opportunities to be outside. I won’t be experiencing the Nowruz holiday in any direct way but I decided to do a bit of searching online to find out what the people of Afghanistan might being doing to celebrate.
Origin and symbolism:
Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox which occurs on or about March 21. The holiday has Zoroastrian roots and is now celebrated in Iran (and among Iranian communities throughout the world); the observance has spread to has spread in many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans. The term Nowruz translates to “New Light” or “New Day.” More about the holiday’s history can be found here.
The holiday represents rebirth, a renewal, and the beginning of a fresh outlook on life. It is one of the most celebrated times of year in Afghanistan. Having dealt with the wet, muddy, winter it is easy to see why.
- Spring cleaning
- Visits to and from family and friends with younger family members generally visiting their elders
- Haft-Sin table which according to Liana Aghajanian’s post at Ianyan Mag includes “symbolic items that start with the Persian letter seen (sound is s) such as “sabzeh” (wheat) symbolizing rebirth and “sir” (garlic) representing medicine.” The table is further described here with the statement that “Families gather at Haft-seen or Haft-sinn, tables set with traditional foods and other items to symbolize the family’s beliefs and values. All of them begin with the sound of the letter “S” — Seeb- apple, Sabze – green grass or Sabzeh — wheat or lentil sprouts; Serke – vinegar; Samanoo – a paste made out of wheat; Senjaed – a berry natie to the region; Sekke — a coin; and Seer – garlic. . . Most haftseen tables also include a small fishbowl with goldfish and a mirror to represent elements of the earth and human consciousness.” This site doesn’t indicate specifically what culture is being described (based on the links in the story my guess is Iran) so I am not sure how much the specifics are true in Afghanistan.
- Fire jumping (also according ot Liana Aghajanian’s post – on “the day before Nowruz, many participate in fire jumping, an event that dates back to the Zoroastrian era in which the fire is meant to take away your problems and give you luck and good energy in return.” I assume that this like many things here is limited to males but I don’t know that for a fact.
- According to Mark Sedra and some of my colleagues, many families travel north for festivities held in Mazar-e Sharf. More about the festival of the red flower (tulip) in in Mazar-e Sharf along with photos can be found here.
- On the outskirts of Kabul there will be Buzkashy/Buzkashi matches. Buzkashi is referred to as the national sport of Afghanistan. The game originated on the plains of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif during the time of the Mongol invasions of Afghanistan. It is played on horseback but beyond that I’ll let you visit the Last Red Shah of Afghanistan for a description as even if I wanted to see a match in person it is one of the many things that are generally off limits to women.
- Flying kites that are made from colorful tissue paper on a light wooden frame. Traditionally the strings are made with ground glass and are very sharp. The kites “fight” each other in the air and try to cut the thread of their opponents.
- Walking on fresh grass is another good luck custom according to Mr. Sedra.
- New clothes are made and worn
- Planting trees
- Haft Mēwa which consists of seven dried fruits which are soaked in water for about a week prior to Nowruz. The result is a cool, syrupy drink full of deliciously puffy dried fruits. The seven “fruits” are: raisins, senjed which is the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), pistachios, hazelnuts, dried apricots which are referred to as prunes, walnuts, almonds. A second species of fruit from the plum family is sometimes substituted for one of the nuts.
- Samanak which is a sweet dish made from wheat germ and nuts
- Shola-e-shireen or shola-e-zard both of which are sweet rice dishes
- Sabzi Chalaw, a dish made from rice and spinach, separately.
- Māhī wa Jelabī (Fried Fish and Jelabi)
- Kulcha Naurozee (aka Kulcha birinji) which is a cookie made with rice flower and reserved for the Nowruz celebration