Whereas the New Year is celebrated on the eve of December 31st in the United States, the new year in Azerbaijan is about three and half months later, on the third weekend of March, during a celebration called Novruz. Commonly referred to as the Persian New Year, as the literal translation of Novruz in Farsi is ‘New Day’, I have learned that Novruz is celebrated in so many different ways and different places that calling it simply by its own name is more reflective of the diversity of customs associated with the holiday. Novruz is a celebration rooted in the Zoroastrian faith, and it celebrates the coming of spring and the beginning of a period to cleanse yourself and rid yourself of the anxieties of the past year.
My Novruz experience in Azerbaijan has been first and foremost centered around food. Certain sweets like şəkərbura, tıxma, Şor qoğal, and paxlava are assembled in an ornamented tray on the dining room table, alongside a tray of dried fruits and nuts. To celebrate the coming of spring and the beginning of green growth, families buy wheat grain and lay it in a dish, watering it everyday until green sprouts grow from the grains. Once the grass reaches about 3-4 inches in height, the semeni is complete and this is another ornament added to the Novruz table. Celebrating the new year with food is the Azerbaijani way, and I am grateful to have had the experience of preparing paxlava from scratch with my host grandmother, aunt, and mother, as well as having a chance to taste all the other Novruz sweets bought from homemade independent sellers that my host family supports.
Before coming to Azerbaijan, I had been most excited about a specific aspect of Novruz: jumping over the bonfire. It is tradition to build a bonfire, sing songs and dance around it, and once it has burned down to a fire of about half a foot, jump over it three times. When you jump over it, you say that you hope your pains and anxieties from the last year will be burned in this fire and you will be fresh for the new year. During the first night of Novruz in Baku this year, it was raining, and I feared that I would not be able to experience this tradition. However, the next day we went to visit relatives in a suburb of Baku and once my 68-year-old host uncle heard that I hadn’t jumped over any bonfires yet, he immediately went outside and built one. Following his lead, I made my three jumps of the bonfire, initially with much anxiety but in the end with much enthusiasm. It seems that even in the span of those three jumps some of my anxieties from the past year had been cleansed. The emphasis on food, family, and nature in Novruz is a breathtakingly beautiful way to welcome the coming of a new year, and if you ask me, much more meaningful than a ten second countdown.
By: Gianna Brassil
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program, Baku, Azerbaijan
Term: Spring 2019