Nowrooz (Persian new year)
Norouz (also spelled Noe-Rooz, Norouz, Norooz, Noruz, Novruz, Noh Ruz, Nauroz, Nav-roze, Navroz, Náw-Rúz or Nowrouz and in Persian نوروز) is the traditional Persian (Iranian) festival of (the first day of) spring. It is celebrated by some communities on March 21st, and by others on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which may occur on March 20th, 21st or 22nd.
The word comes from Avestan nava=new + rəzaŋh=day/daylight; meaning "new day/daylight", and still has the same meaning in modern Persian (no=new + rouz=day; meaning "new day").
Upon the recommendation of prominent Iranian scholars, most Iranian societies and foundations outside Iran, Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization and Cultural Research Bureau (Tehran), and upon the approval of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and most importantly, for the consistency within the International Iranian Community, there is a sugestion that all write the name of the Iranian New Year with this spelling: Nowruz
Norouz has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion. Today, the festival of Norouz is celebrated in many countries that were territories of, or influenced by, the Persian Empire: Persia (Iran), Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of the middle-east, as well as in the former soviet republics of Tajikestan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan,Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is also celebrated by the Zoroastrian Parsis and Iranis in India, and is a public holiday in Turkey, where it is called Biram in Turkish and Newroz in Kurdish.
In most countries, the greeting that accompanies the festival is Norouz Mubarak (mubarak: felicitations) in Persian. In Turkey, the greeting is either Biramuz Mubarak (in Turkish) or Cejna we pîroz be (in Kurdish).
Adherents of the Fasli variant of the Zoroastrian calendar also celebrate Norouz as the first day of the New Year. Other variants of the Zoroastrian calendar celebrate the Norouz twice: once as Jamshedi Norouz on March 21st as the start of spring, and a second Norouz, in July/August (see Variations of the Zoroastrian calendar), as either new year's eve or new year's day. That the second Norouz is celebrated by some as the last day of the year (contrary to what might be expected from a term that means "new day"), may be due to the fact that in ancient Persia the day began at sunset, while in later Persian belief the day began at sunrise.
The Bahá'í Faith, a religion with its origin in Iran, celebrates this day (spelling it "Naw Rúz") as a religious holiday marking not only the new year according to the Bahá'í calendar, but the end of their Nineteen Day Fast. Persian Bahá'ís still observe many Iranian customs associated with it, but Bahá'ís all over the world celebrate it as a festive day, according to local custom. American Bahá'í communities, for example, may have a potluck dinner, along with prayers and readings from Bahá'í scripture. While Naw Rúz, according to scripture, begins on the vernal equinox, Bahá'ís currently celebrate it on March 21, regardless of what day the equinox falls. Bahá'ís are required to suspend work and school in observance.
Although the Persian calendar is very precise about the very moment that the atronomical new year begins, in Iran, the 24 hours period (as per "wall clock" time) in which the atronomical new year begins is treated as Norouz.
The term Norouz first appeared in Persian records in the second century CE, but there are reasons to believe that the celebration is much older and was probably an important day during the Achaemenid times (c. 648-330 BCE). It has been suggested that the famous Persepolis complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and the "Hundred Columns Hall", were built for the specific purpose of celebrating Norouz. However, no mention of Norouz exists in Achaemenid inscriptions.
The oldest records of Norouz go back to the Arsacid/Parthian times (247 BCE-224 CE). There are specific references to the celebration of Norouz during the reign Vologases I (51-78 CE), but these include no details.
Extensive records on the celebration of Norouz appear following the accession of Ardashir I of Persia, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (224-650 CE). Under the Sassanid kings, Norouz was celebrated as the most important day of the year. Most royal traditions of Norouz such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanian era and they persisted unchanged until modern times.
Norouz, along with Sadeh (that is celebrated in mid-winter), survived in society following the introduction of Islam in 650 CE. Other celebrations such Gahanbar and Mehragan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians, who carried them as far as India. Norouz, however, was most honoured even by the early founders of Islam. There are records of the Four Great Caliphs presiding over Norouz celebrations, and it was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.
Following the demise of the Caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Norouz was elevated to an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sasanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the Caliphate. Even the Turkish and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Norouz in favour of any other celebration. Thus, Norouz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.
Norouz in modern Iran
In Iran (Persia), preparations for Norouz begin in Esfand, the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar. Persians, Afghans and other groups start preparing for the Norouz with a major spring-cleaning of their houses, the purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year and the purchase of flowers (in particular the hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous).
In association with the "rebirth of nature", extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Persia. This is also extended to personal attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes. On the New Year's day, families dress in their new clothes and start the twelve-day celebrations by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. On the thirteenth day families leave their homes and picnic outdoors.
During the Norouz holidays people are expected to visit one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbours) in the form of short house visits, which are usually reciprocated. Typically, on the first day of Norouz, family members gather around the table, with the Haft Seen on the table or set next to it, and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged. Later in the day, the first house visits are paid to the most senior family members. Typically, the youth will visit the elders first, and the elders return their visit later. The visits naturally have to be relatively short, otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on their list. A typical visit is around 30 minutes, where you often run into other visiting relatives and friends who happen to be paying a visit to the same house at that time. Because of the house visits, you make sure you have a sufficient supply of pastry, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and special nuts on hand, as you typically serve your visitors with these items with tea or sherbet. Many Iranians will throw large Norouz parties in a central location as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.
Some Norouz celebrants believe that whatever a person does on Norouz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Norouz, then the new year will be a good one. On the other hand, if there are fights and disagreements, the year will be a bad one.
One tradition that may not be very widespread (that is, it may belong to only a few families) is to place something sweet, such as honey or candy, in a safe place outside overnight. On the first morning of the new year, the first person up brings the sweet stuff into the house as another means of attaining a good new year.