Nowruz: Persian New Year

Nowruz (spelt in a variety of ways; it means “new day” in Farsi) is a celebration of the spring or vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the Equator from the southern to the northern hemisphere. It’s also the New Year in the Persian tradition and is the most important festival in Iran, and is celebrated by other Central and North-Western Asian countries and peoples influenced by Persian culture including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

It originated as the most important celebration of the Zoroastrian or Parsee religion, commemorating Shah Jamshed’s saving of the world from a killer winter that would have wiped out life from the Earth. It survived the introduction of Islam to Persia in 650, and is still surrounded in modern Iran with a whole set of elaborate customs and traditions, including the spring-cleaning of the entire house, visits to family and friends, a special table setting called the Haft Sir – Seven “S”s, seven items beginning with the Farsi letter sir, each with its own symbolic significance of eg love, health, renewal. Other countries and peoples have their own distinctive traditions, eg buzkashi tournaments in Afghanistan and fire-leaping in Kurdistan.

In 2010 the UN General Assembly recognised 21 March as the International Day of Nowruz. However, the date of the spring equinox varies between 20 and 21 March, so presumably the International Day will shift as necessary…

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