Nowruz نوروز meaning ‘New Day’ is the name of the Persian New Year and since it happens on the first day of Spring, Nowruz is associated with the rebirth of nature. It has been celebrated for more than 3000 years not only in Iran, but Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Armenia, Albania, Kurdistan, Pakistan, India, Georgia, China, and some other countries as well.
Nowruz (Nouruz) is celebrated annually on the 1st Hamal (Farwardin), the 1st month of the solar calendar, corresponding to March 20th to 22nd, in the Persian cultural area, regardless of the respective religious affiliation.
Nowruz celebrations last for 12 days. In many places, schools and offices are closed during this period, and visiting friends and family is the main activity. The 13th day after Nowruz is generally regarded as a bad luck day. On this day, people usually go outdoors for a picnic. This day is called “Sizdah Bedar”, which means “get rid of the 13th Day”.
Here are some things that people in Afghanistan do differently than people in other parts of the world to celebrate Nowruz.
We usually start preparing for Nowruz a couple of weeks in advance by shopping for food, gifts, and new clothes. Many spend days and days cleaning every corner of their home before the beginning of the new year. This tradition is called (Khaneh Tekaani), which literally means “Shaking the House”.
The most prominent symbol of Nowruz is called the Haftseen table. Haft Seen, means ” The Seven things that start with the letter S ” in Persian. It has seven items that each represent an important symbol:
- Sabzeh (Wheat sprouts grown in a dish) is a Symbol of rebirth and growth.
- Sib (or Apple) is a Symbol of Beauty
- Sir (or Garlic) is a Symbol of Health
- Serkeh (or Vinegar) is a Symbol of Patience.
- Sekeh (or Coin) is the symbol of wealth
- Senjed (or silver berry) is the Symbol of Love
- Samanak / Samanu – kind of a sweet pudding is the Symbol of Power and Strength.
A Haftseen table usually includes a book of wisdom such as a holy or a well-known poetry book, a mirror as the symbol of self-reflection, a decorated egg as the symbol of fertility, and lit candles as the symbol of enlightenment.
People give extra care to decorate the haftseen table as elegantly as possible. Haft Seen tables are usually very colorful and well-decorated!
2- Haft Mēwa
Mostly in Afghanistan, people prepare Haft Mēwa (Seven Fruits) instead or along with Haftseen which is more common in Iran. Haft Mewa is like a Fruit salad made from 7 different Dried fruits, served in their own syrup. The 7 or more dried fruits which are Raisin, Senjed, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Prune, Walnut, and Almond or another species of Plum fruit.
It is a special type of sweet dish made from germinated wheat and is normally cooked or prepared on the eve of Nowruz or a few days before the Nawroz. Women take a special party for it during the night, and cook it from late in the evening till the daylight, singing a special song: Samanak dar Josh o mā Kafcha zanem – Dochtaran* dar Khwāb o mā Dafcha zanem.
Samanak Song Lyrics Translated in English:
Samanak is boiling and we are dancing
Others are asleep and we are shining
Samanak is a gift of spring
This is the nightly feast of the living
Happiness occurs only once a year
Next year who knows what will happen
The wish for tonight is happiness
Samanak will boil by itself
Happy hearts are wearing a cloak
Next year who knows what will happen
4- Prepare Special cuisines
People cook special types of dishes for Nowruz, especially on the eve of Nowruz. Normally they cook Sabzi Chalaw, a dish made from rice and spinach, separately. Moreover, the bakeries prepare a special type of cookie, called Kulcha-e Nowruzī, which is only baked for Nowruz. Another dish which is prepared mostly for the Nowruz days is Māhī wa Jelabī (Fried Fish and Jelabi) and it is the most often meal in picnics. In Afghanistan, it is a common custom among the affianced families that the fiancé’s family give presents to or prepare special dishes for the fiancée’s family on special occasions such as in the two Eids (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha), Barā’at and in Nowruz. Hence, the special dish for Nowruz is Māhī wa Jelabī.
5- Janda Bala Mazar-e-Sharif and Mela Gul-e-Sorkh
Afghans travel from all over Afghanistan to Mazar-e-Sharif city to celebrate Nawroz, Janda Bala, and Mela Gul-e-Sork, and people who don’t go to Mazar-s-Sharif celebrate in their own cities, they go for picnics with their families during the first 2 weeks of New Year.
6- Jashn-e Dehqān
Jashn-e Dehqan means The Festival of Farmers. It is celebrated on the 1st and/or 2nd day of the year when the farmers walk in the cities as a sign of encouragement for agricultural production. In recent years, this activity is being performed only in Kabul and other major cities, in which the mayor and other high governmental personalities participate in watching and observing.
Buzkashi is the national sport and a “passion” in Afghanistan where it is often played on Fridays and matches draw thousands of fans. Whitney Azoy notes in his book Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan that “leaders are men who can seize control by means foul and fair and then fight off their rivals. The Buzkashi rider does the same”. Buzkashi (literally “goat pulling” in Persian), is the Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf carcass in a goal. Although it was not banned, it certainly experienced a sharp decline due to the reduced number of playing horses under the Taliban regime. Traditionally, games could last for several days, but in its more regulated tournament version, it has a limited match time.