No Ruz

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No Ruz

Farmer's Day, Jamshed Navroz, Nauroz, Nav Roz,
Nawruz, Nevrus, Novrus Bairam

The people of Iran, formerly Persia, celebrate New Year's Day in the spring. Their new year festival, called No Ruz or Nawruz, falls at the time of the spring equinox (around March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere). Some of the folk customs associated with No Ruz resemble folk practices associated with Christian Easter celebrations. The peoples of Iraq, Turkey, central Asia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as the Kurds and some Indians also celebrate No Ruz. The Parsis of India know the festival as Jamshed Navroz. The Turks dub it Nevrus, and the people of Afghanistan call it Nauroz. In Kashmir people have named the holiday Nav Roz, and in Turkmenistan it's Novrus Bairam.


Scholars believe that the people of ancient Mesopotamia (which lies mostly in modern-day Iraq) celebrated their new year festival at the time of the spring equinox. The festival also honored the yearly renewal of the world by the god Marduk, who kept the forces of chaos and destruction at bay. Although the ancient Mesopotamian civilization eventually declined, the holiday survived by transforming itself to fit the changing religious and cultural beliefs of the region. With the rise of the Zoroastrian religion the old festival acquired new significance. It not only celebrated the start of a new year, but also commemorated the creation of the world as we know it and venerated God, who in the Zoroastrian religion was known as Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Researchers have determined that the Achaemenid kings (c. 550-330 B.C.) celebrated this great festival. In the seventh century the rise of Islam eclipsed the Zoroastrian religion in the region. Persians, as well as other Middle Easterners and Asians, kept the holiday after converting to Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries. Nevertheless, No Ruz lost its previous religious associations and became simply a new year celebration.

Although Islam became the dominant faith in the Middle East, Zoroastrianism survived as a minority religion, especially in India, where its modern-day adherents are known as Parsis. The Parsis have maintained their own version of the No Ruz festival, which features religious rituals focused on the ceremonial reading of sacred texts. Parsis also extend good wishes to one another on No Ruz. In addition, they practice a special kind of handshake, called hamazor, in which the right hand of one person is clasped between the palms of another.

A Fresh Start

The customs and symbols of the No Ruz festival emphasize newness, freshness, growth, and renewal. In Iran homes are given a thorough cleaning in preparation for the holiday, and people put on new clothes (see also Spring Cleaning). Families decorate their homes with plates of sprouting wheat, dishes of colored eggs, and bowls of water in which they place a green leaf (see also Easter Eggs; Egg Lore). People light candles, often placing them in front of a mirror to magnify the light given off by the flame, and let them burn until completely melted down. In some families these candles are carried about the home accompanied by prayers for the blessing of the dwelling place and its occupants.


In Iran food, clothing, halva (a sweet made from sesame seeds), and money are distributed to the needy at local cemeteries on the Thursday before No Ruz. Families with a comfortable standard of living donate these items. According to old superstitions, bringing these gifts to the graveyard pays one's debts to the dead and, hopefully, curries their favor. This custom also insures that everyone, rich and poor, can celebrate the festival.


Fire plays another important role in the No Ruz festival. People light outdoor bonfires on the Wednesday before the holiday (see also Easter Fires). They give thanks for the previous year and perform an old folk charm thought to bring health and good luck for the coming year. While someone jumps over the blaze, their companions sing to the fire asking it to confer its redness (a sign of good health) and take away yellowness (a sign of illness or ill fortune). Some commentators see in this practice a link back to the Zoroastrian religion, in which sacred fires are kept constantly burning in fire temples. In Zoroastrianism fire represents the divine.

The Seven Symbols

Another popular Persian No Ruz custom consists of setting a table with the seven symbols of the holiday. Each of the objects begins with the Farsi letter seen, the equivalent of our "s." According to legend, Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion, offered these same substances to the deity Ahura Mazda. Oftentimes this table is set weeks before No Ruz so that it may serve as a festive reminder and symbol of the upcoming holiday. The seven symbols are Samanu (a Persian sweet), a coin (sekeh), green vegetables (sabzee), a hyacinth flower (sonbol), garlic (seer), dried fruit (senjed), and vinegar (serekh). These objects represent truth, justice, good thoughts and actions, abundance, virtue, immortality, and generosity.

New Year's Eve and Day

On New Year's eve Persian families set a special, ceremonial table. They lay the dish of sprouting grain and the seven symbols in front of a mirror, which is lit by a number of burning candles, one for each member of the household. A copy of the Qur'an (the holy book of Islam), a bowl of milk, a bowl of yogurt, and some coins also grace the ceremonial table. While waiting for the new year to begin, adults recite the Qur'an or say prayers, a custom which is believed to bless the home and attract good fortune. Many families also set off fireworks on New Year's eve. When the new year begins the families eat sweetmeats, which symbolize a happy new year. On New Year's day Persian children receive gifts of coins, cake, and dyed and decorated hard-boiled eggs. The eggs represent fruitfulness and the renewal of the earth.

The Thirteen Days of No Ruz

In Iran the No Ruz season lasts for thirteen days. Some families make sure to usher in this festive season with a reading from the Qu'ran. During No Ruz people wear new clothes, give one another gifts, often sweets and coins, and visit family and friends. Another No Ruz custom takes place thirteen days after the holiday. On this day people try to spend as much time as possible picnicking and playing sports or games. The number thirteen brings bad luck in Persian culture. Folk tradition therefore teaches that keeping active outdoors on this day helps one avoid picking up bad luck for the coming year. Persians call the custom "Dodging the Unlucky Number."


Afghanis celebrate No Ruz with their own distinctive customs. Women make a special dessert with dried fruit and nuts. They also bake cookies to share with friends and neighbors. Kite flying is a popular holiday pastime. In Afghanistan No Ruz may also be called "Farmer's Day." It marks the first day of spring and people celebrate by attending agricultural fairs and livestock competitions.

Special buzkashi matches take place in honor of the holiday. Afghanis play this violent sport on horseback with whips. Players lash their mounts and their opponents indiscriminately as each team battles to take control of the carcass of a goat (or calf) and drag it down the field, around a goal post, and back to a central area. Afghani celebrations also include a special ceremony at the tomb of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-i-Sharif. Thousands visit this shrine in the hope of gaining religious merit and healing illnesses.

The Karakalpaks

The Karakalpak people in the central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan also celebrate No Ruz. They honor the holiday by dressing in their finest clothes. Children perform skits in schools. Townspeople gather in the central square for games, contests, speeches, and food. At home people celebrate by making and eating sumalak, a sweet pudding made from young wheat plants. The tender stalks must be boiled for a day and a night to yield the pudding. Several families band together to prepare a large amount of this time-consuming dish. Everyone takes a turn feeding the fire and stirring the pot. Sumalak symbolizes the No Ruz holiday to the Karakalpak people. They not only consider it highly nutritious, but also savor it as the first taste of the new foods that the coming spring harvest will bring.

Further Reading

Cooper, J. C. The Dictionary of Festivals. London, England: Thorsons, 1990. Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. Cleveland, OH: Meridian, 1963. Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1999. Gulevich, Tanya. "Zagmuk." In her Encyclopedia of Christmas. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2000. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1997.

Web Sites

"Iranian New Year No Ruz," an article by Massoume Price concerning the history and customs of this festival, posted at: "Nowrooz Holiday Celebrates Life," a Radio-Free Europe article by Abbas Djavadi and Bruce Pannier, posted at: The Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Culture offers a web page describing No Ruz celebrations in Turkey and Central Asia at: (click on "Art-Culture," then "Folk Cultures," then "Nevruz")
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Nawruz (Naw Roz, Navroz, No Ruz, New Year)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: Beginning March 21 for thirteen days
Where Celebrated: Afghanistan, India, Iran
Symbols and Customs: Egg and Mirror, Gardens of Adonis, Seven S's (Haft-sin), Water Sprinkling, Wheat Cakes


Nawruz, which means "new day" in Persian, celebrates the beginning of spring and the start of the new year. It is observed by all religious groups in Iran and Afghanistan; in India, it is celebrated by the Parsis as Jamshed Navroz. This holiday dates back further than Islam and is believed to have come from Zoroastrian Persia, where it coincided with the VERNAL EQUINOX and was observed in honor of the solar new year.

Nawruz marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

In fifteenth-century Egypt, Persian Nawruz customs were combined with those of a typical SATURNALIA or CARNIVAL celebration. People crowned a "Prince of the New Year," who smeared flour all over his face, rode through the streets on a donNawruz

key, and collected money. Anyone who failed to make a suitable contribution was doused with water or dirt. Sometimes teachers were attacked by their students and thrown into a fountain, from which they had to "buy" their way out. Eventually the government succeeded in suppressing the more outrageous festival customs.

In modern Iran, houses are cleaned and children are given new clothes in preparation for the thirteen-day New Year's celebration. The evening before Nawruz begins, a traditional omelette made with greens is served, along with pilaf, a rice dish symbolizing the wish for an abundant year. Friends and relatives visit each other and exchange gifts that include colored eggs (see EGG AND MIRROR ), fruit, and bunches of narcissus. Banquets featuring seven foods beginning with the letter S (see SEVEN S ' S ) are held, and the New Year's dinner is typically eaten sitting around a tablecloth spread out on the floor. In Muslim homes, it is customary to pop a piece of candy into someone's mouth on Nawruz while reciting a brief passage from the Qur'an. Sometimes each member of the family will eat a piece of candy while a passage is read from the Qur'an. Then they embrace each other and say, "May you live a hundred years."

The thirteenth day of Nawruz is called Sizdan-Bedar or "Thirteenth Day Out." It is considered unlucky to remain at home on this day, so the entire family usually goes to the country or a city park to spend the day picnicking and to welcome the arrival of spring. Folk singers, dancers, clowns, and costumed actors wander about entertaining people on this day. Children bring their GARDENS OF ADONIS with them and throw them into a stream of running water.

In Afghanistan, Nawruz is a favorite time to play buzkashi or "goat-grabbing." The object of the game is for a team of horse riders to grab the carcass of a goat that has been placed in a pit, carry it around a goal post, and put it back in the pit. The game is believed to have developed on the plains of Mongolia and Central Asia using a prisoner of war instead of a goat. Since there are several hundred horsemen on each team galloping at breakneck speed and lashing at each other with buzkashi whips, the game often results in fatalities.


Egg and Mirror

Muslim families observe Nawruz with a dinner consisting of foods that begin with the letter S (see SEVEN S ' S ). These dishes are laid out on a tablecloth on the floor, along with a colored egg, a mirror, and a candle for each family member. At the precise moment when the new year begins, the egg is placed on the mirror. To everyone's delight, the egg usually trembles a bit-probably because of all the cannons that are fired at midnight. Eggs are a traditional symbol of fertility and new life, and their use at the new year festival may date back to the time when it was a pastoral festival marking the change from winter to summer. The light reflected in the mirror symbolizes the brightness of the future.

Gardens of Adonis

A couple of weeks before Nawruz arrives, Iranian families plant quick-growing seeds such as wheat, celery, and lentils in shallow bowls containing a little dirt and water. They soon turn into masses of green, symbolizing life and good fortune. Then, on the thirteenth day of the festival, children take the sprouted seeds and throw them over the garden wall or into a stream of running water. This act is symbolic of doing away with family quarrels so that the new year can begin in friendliness and peace (see WHEAT CAKES ).

The name for these miniature gardens dates back to ancient mythology. Adonis- originally the Babylonian god Tammuz-was a young Greek god beloved by Aphrodite. He was killed by a wild boar while hunting in the mountains, and Aphrodite was so grief-stricken that the gods arranged to let him spend half the year on earth with her and the other half in the underworld. The story of the dying god who was resurrected each year became a symbol for the seasonal shift from winter to spring. A funeral cult was founded in his honor, and each spring the women of Greece and western Asia would plant seeds in vases and sprinkle them with warm water. These Gardens of Adonis, as they were called, would be cast into the sea along with images of the young god. The blooming of the red anemone seven days later was considered to be symbolic of his return.

Seven S's (Haft-sin)

The most outstanding feature of the Nawruz celebration is the festival table, a cloth spread out on the floor containing the Haft-sin or "Seven S's," all food items that represent happiness in the new year: sabyeh or green sprouts grown from seed; sonbul or hyacinth; samanoo or sweet wheat pudding; serkeh or vinegar; sumac from the sumac plant; seeb or apple; and senjed or Bohemian olives. The Haft-sin represent the seven archangels of God who embody the principles of ethical behavior in the Zoroastrian religion.

Other foods served at the festival include roast chicken, fruit, bread, sweets, and rose water. After the feast is over, candy is passed around while passages from the Qur'an are read aloud.

Water Sprinkling

In ancient Persia, Syria, and Egypt, Nawruz was originally a celebration of the arrival of spring. People woke up early, drew running water in a vase, and then Nawruz

poured it over themselves in a symbolic act designed to stave off bad luck and harm.

There are a number of theories as to where this custom originated. Legend has it that once, after a very long drought, rain fell on New Year's Day. From that time onward, rain was considered a good omen, and pouring water over each other became a new year's tradition. Another theory is that it is simply an act of purification designed to cleanse the body of the smoke and dirt associated with tending the winter fires.

Yet another explanation is that when the prophet Solomon lost his kingdom and his powers-symbolized by the loss of his signet ring-because one of his wives had returned to the worship of her old idols, he was forced to wander unrecognized through Jerusalem and beg for his food. According to the Qur'an, Solomon was not really at fault for this lapse, and as soon as he realized why he was being punished, he sought God's forgiveness. His signet ring was restored to him and with it, his sovereignty. The swallows were so overjoyed that they celebrated by splashing each other with water.

Wheat Cakes

The wheat cakes associated with Nawruz are not ordinary cakes for eating. They are uncooked, and they contain whole grains of wheat. The cake is kept moist until the wheat sprouts and turns into a miniature garden. In many homes, there is a layer of the cake for each member of the family, and the children wait anxiously for the wheat to sprout on their layer. On the thirteenth day of the new year festival, the family takes the cake out into the fields and throws it away. Like GARDENS OF ADONIS , the wheat cakes take with them all the bad feelings and quarrels that have accumulated within the family, clearing the way for a peaceful new year.


Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Von Grunebaum, Gustave E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York: Schuman, 1951.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Nawruz (Naw roz; No Ruz; New Year)

Beginning about March 21 for 13 days
The first day of spring ( nawruz means "new day") celebrated by all religious groups in Iran and Afghanistan. In India, it is celebrated by the Parsis as Jamshed Navaroz. The holiday is pre-Islamic, a legacy of Zoroastrian Persia. It is also called Ras al-Am . In Afghanistan it is celebrated as Nauruz ; in Kashmir as Nav Roz ; and in Turkmenistan, it's Novrus Bairam . Nawruz is also celebrated in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan.
The origins of Nawruz are obscure, but it is generally thought to have been a pastoral festival marking the change from winter to summer. Legends have grown up around the holiday. In Afghanistan, where it is also Farmer's Day, an ugly old woman named Ajuzak is thought to roam around when Nawruz begins. If it rains on Nawruz, she is washing her hair and the spring plantings will thrive. The Achaemenid kings (559 b.c.e.-330 b.c.e.) are known to have celebrated Nawruz, probably with gift-giving. Farmers decorate their cows and come into the city for an annual agricultural fair with prizes. Betting on kite flying is a sport for later in the day.
A special event, jandah bala kardan ("raising of the standard"), is held on Nawruz at the tomb of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The jandah, or standard, is raised in the courtyard of the shrine, and stays there for 40 days. Thousands visit the shrine to touch the staff to gain merit, and the sick and crippled touch it hoping for cures. The standard comes down at a time when a distinct kind of red tulip blooms and then soon fades; at this time, people visit friends and wish each other long lives and many children.
Buzkashi, the national game of Afghanistan, is usually played on Nawruz, especially in Mazar-i-Sharif. Buzkashi means "goat-grabbing," and the object of the game is for a team of horse riders to grab the carcass of a goat placed in a pit, carry it around a goal post, and put it back in the pit. The game is supposed to have developed on the plains of Mongolia and Central Asia, sometimes using a prisoner-of-war instead of a goat; now a dead calf is usually used. It's a ferocious game occasionally producing fatalities; there are several hundred horsemen ( chapandaz ) on each team, and they gallop at breakneck speed, lashing at horses and each other with special buzkashi whips.
Special Afghan dishes on Nawruz are samanak, a dessert made of wheat and sugar, and haft-mewah ("seven fruits")—a compote of walnuts, almonds, pistachio nuts, red and green raisins, dried apricots, and a fruit called sanjet .
In Iran, Nawruz is an event lasting 13 days, during which people wear new clothes, give gifts, and visit friends and relatives. Banquet tables traditionally hold seven foods starting with the letter S. Plates with sprouting wheat symbolize fertility, as do eggs, which are colored. Other symbols on the table are a mirror, candlesticks, and a bowl of water with a green leaf in it. The 13th day after No Ruz is Sizdah-Bedar or "13th day out" and everyone picnics in the country or on rugs in city parks. The idea is to get out of their houses, taking any bad luck with them.
For the Baha'i, the day also marks the end of the 19-day fast, from March 2-20, when Baha'i abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset as a reminder that one's true nature is spiritual rather than material.
See also Ayyam-i-Ha
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 7
BkHolWrld-1986, Mar 21
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 869
EncyEaster-2002, p. 418
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 218
HolSymbols-2009, p. 623

Nawruz (Kazakhstan)
Around March 21
The people of Kazakhstan celebrate Nawruz around the time of the Vernal Equinox. This holiday, rendered Nauryz in Kazakhstan, celebrates the start of the new year and is the most festive of all the nation's holidays. Indeed Kazakhs sometimes call it Ulys Kuni, meaning "the first day of the new year," or Ulystyn uly kuni, "the great day of the people."
Special activities take place to commemorate the occasion, including horse races, games, and all kinds of merrymaking. People dress in their best clothing, prepare large and tasty meals, exchange well-wishes and congratulations, and visit friends and family. Since the activities that take place on Nauryz are thought to foretell one's fortune for the year, people try to include an abundance of food and other good things in their celebrations.
The main meal takes place around noon, and is introduced and concluded by the mullah's recitation of, a prayer honoring the ancestors. At the end of the feast, the oldest male blesses all those present so that they may prosper in the year to come. The number seven is considered a lucky number for this festival. It represents the seven days of the week. In the course of the celebrations, elderly men will be presented with seven cups of a special festival beverage called nauryz-kozhe . The beverage is itself made from seven grades of seven different kinds of grain.
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations
866 United Nations Plz., Ste. 586
New York, NY 10017
212-230-1900; fax: 212-230-1172

Celebrated in: Kazakhstan

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.