Nowrūz (Persian: نوروز, various local pronunciations and spellings) is the traditional Iranian new year holiday celebrated in Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Georgia, the countries of Central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as among various other Iranian and Turkic people in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Northwestern China, the Caucasus, the Crimea,the Balkans and Malaysia and Indonesia.
Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year as well as the beginning of the Bahá'í year. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox (start of spring in northern hemisphere), which usually occurs on the March 21st or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed.
As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents of Sufism as well as Bahá'í Faith. In Iran it is also referred to as an Eid festival, although it is not an Islamic feast. Shia Nizari Ismaili muslims, who trace their origins to Iran, celebrate the festival under the name Navroz. In their religious protocol, Navroz is officially recognized as an Eid, as with Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, although it involves a distinct set of religious ceremonies. Alawites also celebrate Nowruz.
The term Nooroz first appeared in Persian records in the second century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 648-330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the emperor (Shahanshah) of Persia on Nowruz.
I have celebrated Nowruz many times in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and India. It is probably celebrated with the most vigor in Mazar I Sharif in Afghanistan, where a huge fertility pole is raised with ribbons tied to it. Each ribbon represents someones prayers.
In Northern Afghanistan the feritliy pole is a pre-Islamic celebration seen as a phallic symbol. Around 20 to 21 March, the winter snows starts to melt and the celebrations and prayers are in the hope that the spring will bring plenty of water to nourish the crops and bring fertility to land and people.
Nowruz and the Spring Equinox
In Afghanistan, Nowroz festival is traditionally celebrated for 2 weeks. Preparations for Nowroz start several days beforehand, at least after Chaharshanbe Suri, the last Wednesday before the New Year. Among various traditions and customs, the most important one is :
Haft Mēwa: In Afghanistan, they prepare Haft Mēwa (Seven Fruits) instead of Haft Sin which is common in Iran. Haft Mewa is like a Fruit salad made from 7 different Dried fruits, served in their own syrup. The 7 dried fruits are: Raisin, Senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), Pistachio, Hazelnut, Prune (dry fruit of Apricot), Walnut and whether Almond or another species of Plum fruit.
Along with other customs and celebrations, normally a Buzkashi tournament is held. The Buzkashi matches take place in northern cities of Afghanistan and in Kabul.
In Mazar I Sharif they play Buskashi for the week following Nowroz
So happy Nowruz. The reason it is so important to me is that my birthday, 21 husually coincides with Nowruz. This celebration has certainly brought fertility to my life as I am the proud Father of seven wonderful children.