Azerbaijan celebrates Novruz
Novruz is the day of spring equinox, the most ancient holiday marked in Azerbaijan. On March 20 (or 19, or 21, a precise date is forecast by the astronomers), the ‘pagan’ New Year comes, the day and night are equalized and the spring begins.
The festival is not only celebrated at the national level, but there are also lengthy bank holidays, for example, this year there will be 6 day-offs.
During much of the Soviet rule, Novruz was not marked officially in the country, and those who celebrated it risked prosecution. Azerbaijan only started celebrating it at the state level in 1967 and did not make it a day-off until after declaring independence.
Novruz is always celebrated in grand style. For example, folk festivities are now underway in Baku, with street performances and all the jazz.
The celebrations actually start one month before the holiday itself. The matter is that 4 Tuesdays preceding the holiday symbolize 4 elements worshipped by Zaroastrians, who used to live on the territory of Azerbaijan in ancient times: wind, earth, water and fire.
There are numerous traditions and legends associated with Novruz and all of them symbolize renovation, getting rid of old and beginning a new life. Most of these traditions have been preserved since Zoroastrism. Jumping over a bonfire, spring cleaning of house ahead of the holiday, great quantity of high caloric sweets that are specially baked to be shared with relatives – that’s Novruz.
Rice pilaf, khoncha (a tray with sprouted wheat and sweets) must be on the table by all means. There are dyed eggs, and candles, one for each member of a family, are inserted into khoncha. The candles are lit in the festive evening, and, Azerbaijanis believe, if they burn evenly, everybody will be healthy in the coming year.