Nowruz :now means new and the word ruz means day, so nowruz means starting a new day and it is the Celebration of the start of spring (“Rejuvenation”). It starts on the first day of spring (also the first day of the Iranian Calendar year), 21 March, in that 12 days as a sign of the past 12 months, all Iranian families gather around and visit each other. It is also the best time to re-experience the feeling of mehr (pure love). In nowruz all families talk about their best experiences of the last year and the things they are looking forward in the next year and they all become bonded again in peace. There are many other things Iranians do for nowruz including khane tekani (cleaning the house) and haji firooz, where a person who makes his face black and wears a red dress, walks around the streets and entertains people by singing a special song.
History and origin
Although it is not clear whether proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that Iranians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, respectively related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year. Boyce and Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment: “It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Iranians to develop their own spring festival into an established New Year feast, with the name Navasarda “New Year” (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).” Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been a seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, “it is probable that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.”
Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mitraism and Zoroastrianism. In Mitraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the sun light. The Iranian festivals such as Mehrgan (autumnal equinox), Tirgan, and the eve of Chelle ye Zemestan (winter solstice) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts; such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce, “It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself”; although there is no clear date of origin. Between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan) was celebrated. This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.
The 10th century scholar Biruni, in his work Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim, provides a description of the calendar of various nations. Besides the Iranian calendar, various festivals of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Sabians, and other nations are mentioned in the book. In the section on the Iran calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tirgan, Mehrgan, the six Gahambars, Farvardigan, Bahmanja, Esfand Armaz and several other festivals. According to him, “It is the belief of the Iranians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion.” The Persian historian Gardizi, in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār, under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals, mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster highly emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehrgan.
It has been suggested that the famous Persepolis complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and the Hundred Columns Hall, were built for the specific purpose of celebrating a feast related to Nowruz. Although there may be no mention of the term Nowruz in recorded Achaemenid inscriptions, there is a detailed account by Xenophon of a Nowruz celebration taking place in Persepolis and the continuity of this festival in the Achaemenid tradition. It was an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 550–330 BCE), where kings from different nations under the Achaemenid Empire used to bring gifts to the King of Kings of Iran. The significance of the ceremony in the Achaemenid Empire was such that King Cambyses II’s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimized only after his participation in the referred annual Achaemenid festival. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient Iranian peoples.
In 539 BC, the Jews came under Iranian rule, thus exposing both groups to each other’s customs. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther is adapted from an Iranian novella about the shrewdness of harem queens, suggesting that Purim may be a transformation of the Iranian New Year. A specific novella is not identified and Encyclopædia Britannica itself notes that “no Jewish texts of this genre from the Persian period are extant, so these new elements can be recognized only inferentially”. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics notes that the Purim holiday is based on a lunar calendar, while Nowruz occurs at the spring equinox (solar calendar). The two holidays are therefore celebrated on different dates but within a few weeks of each other, depending on the year. Given their temporal associations, it is possible that the Jews and Iranians of the time may have shared or adopted similar customs for these holidays. The story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther has been dated around 625–465 BC (although the story takes place with the Jews under the rule of the Achaemenid Empire and the Jews had come under Iranian rule in 539 BC), while Nowruz is thought to have first been celebrated between 555–330 BC. It remains unclear which holiday was established first.
Arsacid and Sassanid periods
Nowruz was the holiday of Arsacid dynastic empires who ruled Iran (248–224 CE) and the other areas ruled by the Arsacid dynasties outside of Parthia (such as the Arsacid dynasties of Armenia and Iberia). There are specific references to the celebration of Nowruz during the reign of Vologases I (51–78 CE), but these include no details. Before Sassanids established their power in Western Asia around 300 CE, Parthians celebrated Nowruz in autumn, and the first of Farvardin began at the autumn equinox. During the reign of the Parthian dynasty, the spring festival was Mehrgan, a Zoroastrian and Iranian festival celebrated in honor of Mithra.
Extensive records on the celebration of Nowruz appear following the accession of Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE). Under the Sassanid emperors, Nowruz was celebrated as the most important day of the year. Most royal traditions of Nowruz, such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanid era and persisted unchanged until modern times.
After the Muslim conquest
Nowruz, along with Sadeh (celebrated in mid-winter), survived in society after the Muslim invasion of Iran in 650 CE. Other celebrations such the Gahambars and Mehrgan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians who carried them. It was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.
In the book Nowruznama (“Book of the New Year”, which is attributed to Omar Khayyam, a well known Persian poet and mathematician), a vivid description of the celebration in the courts of the kings of Iran is provided: “From the era of Kai Khosrow till the days of Yazdegard, last of the pre-Islamic kings of Iran, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year, Now Ruz, the king’s first visitor was the High Mobad of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring, some gold coins, a fistful of green sprigs of wheat, a sword, and a bow. In the language of Iran, he would then glorify God and praise the monarch. This was the address of the High Mobad to the king: “O Majesty, on this feast of the equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the faith of the ancient ones; may Sraosha, the angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness. May thy soul flourish; may thy youth be as the new-grown grain; may thy horse be puissant, victorious; thy sword bright and deadly against foes; thy hawk swift against its prey; thy every act straight as the arrow’s shaft. Go forth from thy rich throne, conquer new lands. Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth. May thy house prosper and thy life be long!”
Following the demise of the caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Iranian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Nowruz was elevated to an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sassanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the caliphate. According to the Syrian historian Yaqut al-Hamawi, the Iranian Buyid ruler ʿAżod-od-Dawla (r. 949-83) customarily welcomed Nowruz in a majestic hall, wherein servants had placed gold and silver plates and vases full of fruit and colorful flowers. The King would sit on the royal throne (masnad), and the court astronomer came forward, kissed the ground, and congratulated him on the arrival of the New Year. The king would then summon musicians and singers, and invited his boon companions. They would gather in their assigned places and enjoy a great festive occasion.
Even the Turkic and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Nowruz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Nowruz remained as the main celebration in Iranian lands by both the officials and the people.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Caucasian and Central Asian countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday.
The UN’s General Assembly recognized the International Day of Nowruz in 2010, describing it as a spring festival of Iranian origin, which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2009, Nowruz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In response to the UN recognition, Iran unveiled a postage stamp. The stamp was made public in the presence of the Iranian President during the first International Nowruz Celebrations in Tehran on Saturday, 27 March 2010.
The second International Nowruz Celebrations were also held in Tehran in 2011. The 3rd International Nowruz Celebrations were held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on March 25, 2012 with Tajik President and his Iranian and Afghan counterparts in attendance. The next international ceremonies to celebrate Nowruz were scheduled to be hosted by Turkmenistan.
The festival of Nowruz is celebrated by many groups of people in the Black Sea basin, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Western Asia, central and southern Asia, and by Iranians worldwide.
Countries that have Nowruz as a public holiday include:
- Afghanistan (21 March)
- Albania (22 March)
- Azerbaijan (20 March to 26 March, total of 7 days)
- Iran (20 March to 24 March, total of 5 days in general + total of 14 days for schools and universities)
- Iraq (de jure in Iraqi Kurdistan, de facto national)(21 March)
- Kazakhstan (21 March to 24 March, total of 4 days)
- Kosovo (21 March)
- Kyrgyzstan (21 March)
- Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia (22 March, regional state holiday only)
- Tajikistan (20 March to 23 March, total of 4 days)
- Turkmenistan (20 March to 23 March, total of 4 days)
- Uzbekistan (21 March)
Also the Canadian parliament, by unanimous consent, has passed a bill to add Nowruz to the national calendar of Canada, on March 30, 2009.
Nowruz is also celebrated by Kurdish people in Iraq and Turkey,as well as by the Parsis in the Indian subcontinent.
It is also taken place by Iranian communities in several regions in Europe and the Americas, including Los Angeles, Toronto, Cologne and London.But because Los Angeles is prone to devastating fires, there are very strict fire codes in the city. No fires are allowed even on one’s own property. Usually, Iranians living in Southern California go to the beaches to celebrate the event where it is permissible to build fires. On 15 March 2010, the House of Representatives of the United States passed the Nowruz Resolution (H.Res. 267), by a 384–2 vote, “Recognizing the cultural and historical significance of Nowruz, … .”
Nowruz is the most important holiday in Iran, marking the official New Year of the country. It is the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar. In Iran, families celebrate the New Year since the exact time of the March equinox, which is calculated every year.
In Iran, following the 1979 Revolution, some elements from the government have attempted to suppress Nowruz with very little success. These considered Nowruz a pagan holiday and a distraction from Islamic holidays.