Spring is officially here!! The start of spring is an exciting time in Azerbaijan because they have a very popular holiday to celebrate spring.  The holiday is called ‘Novruz.’  Novruz celebrates nature’s “New Year” and the awakening of spring.  The official Novruz Holiday lasts from March 20th to the 24th.

Novruz is actually celebrated throughout the month of March with pre-celebrations.  People celebrate and make preparations on the four Tuesdays before Novruz.  These Tuesdays represent the four elements—water, fire, wind, and earth.  According to ancient folk beliefs, water represents the first Tuesday because it purifies.  Earth is on the last Tuesday to represent the awakening of nature.

Common Traditions:

1. Cleaning

Because everything is staring anew, Azerbaijani’s do their own tradition of “spring cleaning.” EVERYTHING in the house is washed.  My host mom washed the sheets, blankets, floors, curtains, rugs, everything.  Some families even repaint the walls.

2. Fires

On the four Tuesdays, Azerbaijani families build fires and jump over them.   You’ll see the fire in the pictures down below.  Once you build the fire, you wait.  You talk with each other and to your neighbors.  You wish passers by a Happy Holiday.  Once the fire dies down a bit, everyone jumps over it three times.  When you jump over it you get to say “Take my hardships, give me your lightness.”  By jumping over the fire and saying the above sentence, you are mentally throwing all the bad stuff that happened last year into the fire.  Once you mentally throw your past troubles into the fire, you can start the “New Year” so fresh and so clean clean.

3. Games

Another tradition many kids do on the four Tuesdays is “hat throwing”.  It’s kind of like Halloween.  One puts his hat in front of a neighbor’s house, knocks on the door, and then hides.  The neighbor opens the door and sees hats laying on the front step.  The neighbor takes the hats inside and puts goodies in them like pastries, candy, and nuts.  Many neighborhood children threw their hats at my family’s door on each of the four Tuesdays.

Families also decorate eggs like we do at Easter for this holiday.  Once the eggs are boiled and colored, the boys take them to have an egg fight.  The object of the game is the break the other boy’s eggs.  I think it is a confusing game to watch.  I never know who wins.

Some other popular things to do are fortune telling games.  On the last Tuesday before the holiday, girls go on a mission to find out when and who they will marry.  One game is eavesdropping.  Boys and girls will go and eavesdrop on their neighbor’s conversations.  Based on the words they hear, they will try to tell their fortune and guess if their wishes will come true.  Therefore, during the month of March, no one says anything bad about anybody else because they could be listening!  Another fortune telling game is for girls to eat a salty scone without drinking a glass of water before bed.  While the girl sleeps, her future husband will give her a drink of water in her dream.  I didn’t try either of these games this year. Maybe next year…

4. Food

The next most important part of the holiday is the food.  Sometime during the 4 weeks before the holiday (March 20), families make all the pastries for the holiday.  They prepare special Novruz deserts to reenergize the body and one’s spirits after a cold winter.  The most common pastries for the holiday are pakhlava and shekerbura. I think they are both very tasty.  Pakhlava is in a diamond shape and is made of dough, sugar, and nuts.  Shekerbura is shaped like an apple turnover but has nuts and sugar inside it.  It is the white oval shaped pastry.  After making the pastries, they put them on a serving tray with fruits, candles, nuts, candies, and colored eggs.

Also on every table there is wheat grass which is called “samani”.  Every table must have it.  Usually a red ribbon is tied around it.  My host mom grew some of her own.  I don’t know where the tradition comes from or why they have it.  I think they have it has a sign of spring when the grass grows and flowers bloom.

After you jump over the fire, you come into the house to eat dinner.  Our table was decorated and had a big meal for almost every Tuesday before the holiday plus on the day they celebrated the holiday (March 21).  On March 21, my host relatives came over, and we ate a meal together.  It is very important to be at home on the first day of the official holiday.  There is an old saying that goes, “if you are not at home for the holiday, you will be homeless for seven years.”

Other celebrations:

During March I went to some Novruz celebrations that schools or youth organizations put on.  One celebration I went to was at the Oxford School (an English speaking school) near my town.  They had a presentation inside where the kids performed traditional dances and songs.  After, we went outside to continue the celebration.  Outside there were tents for fortune telling, bread making, and music.  There were also bonfires.  Some of the pictures below where people are wearing traditional clothing are from this celebration.

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All in all it was a fun holiday.  However it is still cold outside.  I haven’t given up my winter jacket or long underwear.  Spring come faster!!!