Celebrating Nowruz – a 3000 year old tradition
Each year on the 21st of March three hundred million people from various ethnic, lingual and religious backgrounds get together with their families and friends to celebrate Nowruz.
Nowruz is mainly recognized as the Iranian New Year, but its’ geographical and cultural elements cross several geographic borders. It has been practiced in the entire ancient Empire of Persia which was much larger than modern day Iran. Nowruz literally means (the) ”New Day”. It is the first day of spring or the equinox.
An equinox occurs twice a year around the 20th of March (spring/vernal equinox) and the 22nd of September (fall/autumnal equinox). Both occasions have been and still are celebrated in Iran, but the spring equinox has been selected as the occasion to mark the beginning of the New Year and has gained much more attention than the fall equinox, or “Mehergan” as it is called in Persian.
There’s an annual calculaton during the spring equinox of the exact moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes the length of night and day, and that is when families get together to practice the rituals.
Nowruz originated in ancient Persia and has some roots in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, but it is principally a secular holiday celebrated by people from different faiths in Persia and the regions came to its cultural and political influence.
Today Nowruz is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the Kurdish regions of Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, Pakistan, Central Asia and among scattered populations in China.
The event has been celebrated for more than 3000 years. In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized March 21st as the International Day of Nowruz as a Persian spring festival and in 2009 it was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Religious regimes against Nowruz
During its 3000 years of survival, Nowruz has faced many prohibitions; because it’s a secular holiday it was not appreciated by religious regimes in the region. It was banned under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but people kept celebrating it in secret even until after the Taliban regime. Afghanistan was the host of the international celebration of Nowrouz in 2014 which in 2013 was hosted by Iran and in 2012 by Turkmenistan.
Similar hostility was exercised in Iran. When the Islamists came to power in 1979 they tried to systematically to degrade and even cancel Nowruz as a national holiday from the calendar to replace it with a religious occasion. All attempts were however faced with civilian resistance. Nowruz is deeply rooted in people’s cultural heritage and managed to survive as a secular holiday.