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The Enduring Nowruz

The New Year Celebration & the Unity of Humanity

نوروز پاینده

22 March 2010 Touraj Daryaee
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The Enduring Nowruz

Nowruz or the Iranian New Year is an old seasonal celebration which has its roots in the very distant past. The ancient Iranians honored the souls (frawashi) of their departed family members, hence the holiday was called Farwardinegan. In the olden days, according to the Zoroastrian tradition, homes were cleaned, new clothes were prepared, and a feast was placed for the souls of the departed who returned to their home. The celebration took ten days; the feast was divided into two five day period, the last five days of the month of Esfand and the first five days of Farwardin. It was a sort of “all-souls” festival[1] proceeded by Nowruz or the New Year Festival. In the Sasanian period (224-651 CE) the celebration was placed at one specific day rather than ten days, and by the 11th century, the Iranian scholar Biruni gives us details of the elaborate celebrations that took place during the Nowruz in ancient Iran.

What makes Nowruz a unique festivity is that it is now celebrated by Iranians and nation-states around the world regardless of religious affiliation. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahais and Zoroastrians all join and unite for this one celebration to greet the regeneration of the earth. It is also a celebration that brings many of the ethnic groups who are at times divided together for a common festivity and joyous occasion. The Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, Lurs, Tajiks, Uzbeks and others in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Republic of Azerbijan, Syria, and nowadays in the United Arab Emirates to the United States, all join in the celebration.

What is it that all these people with different backgrounds and religious beliefs celebrate? It is the coming of the Spring Equinox, the celebration of a new season and the continuation of the cycle of life and hope. The earth turns green and brings hope for another great harvest for all humanity. This is one of those times when people can leave their differences aside and come together to greet the Nowruz. Thus, such a festival can transcend all religious and ethnic divisions and it has done so for past millennia.

In the historical period, one can see the first pictorial glimpses of the New Year celebration at the ceremonial palace of the Achaemenid kings. In perfect procession, people from locations as distant as Africa and near as Central Asia brought gifts to Persepolis for the New Year celebration. These images match the later description by Biruni that people brought gifts to the Sasanian kings during the Nowruz. In fact, gift giving is another tradition that seems to have continued from antiquity till present. Iranians are shown holding flowers, in friendly gestures, walking at Persepolis for the Nowruz which is very different from what was shown on rock reliefs existing from the Near East. These images can today teach us to leave our differences aside and come together during Nowruz and celebrate the earth and people living on it.

Where the Iranians have been present, from the distant past till today, they have made Nowruz a celebration to be remembered. For example the Coptic Egyptian New Year celebration was probably influenced by the Iranian presence in Egypt in the 7th century CE. The Coptic Egyptians call the celebration Nawruz, and it is one of the great popular feasts. It is reported that during that celebration the Egyptians wore their best attire, exchanged visits, and that festivities went late into the night. Nowadays, Nowruz Parades take place in New York and Beverly Hills, CA which has made it an official holiday celebration. Furthermore, the United Nations has recognized the Nowruz on March 21 as an international celebration on behalf of the Iranians worldwide. So from Iran to the borders of China, to Europe and the United States the Nowruz lives on and may it continue to do so a long time to come. This Iranian festivity is among those things that one can learn from the Iranian tradition that has had a positive impact on people around them world.

[1] The All Souls festival is celebrated by Catholics to commemorate the faithful departed.


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About author

Touraj Daryaee

is Baskerville Professor of Iranian History and the Persiante World and Associate Director of Dr. Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies at University of California, Irvine. Full bio