When is Novruz?
Novruz (Novruz Bayrami) is the most important holiday in Azerbaijan. It celebrates the Persian New Year, and the beginning of Spring. Novruz means 'New Day'.
In accordance with Article 105 of the Labour Code of Azerbaijan passed in 2006, workers receive five days off for Novruz, though Novruz may be extended depending on what day of the week it begins.
This is an ancient holiday, which can be traced back 5,000 years to the Sumerians and the Babylonians civilisations. Novruz begins on either 20 March or 21 March, on the spring equinox, when the days and nights are equal length, with days then becoming longer signifying the arrival of warmer weather.
The build up to Novruz begins a month before the festival. Each of the four Tuesdays falling before Novruz is dedicated to a different element. First is Water Tuesday, where water renews nature. Next is Fire Tuesday which honours fire as a method rebirth. Then it is Earth Tuesday marking the revival of the earth. Finally it is Wind Tuesday when the wind opens the buds and marks the arrival of Spring.
Fire worship forms an integral part of the celebrations with fires being lit on the four Tuesdays in the run up to Novruz. On the last Tuesday, everyone has to jump over the fire as an act of purification.
Like a lot of spring festivals, this idea of purification and starting again is key. Indeed, before Novruz, activities based on renewal like spring cleaning, planting trees, make new clothes and painting eggs are popular.
On the day before Novruz, the graves of relatives are visited and tended, then the whole family will gather round the table to enjoy traditional dishes. The table will be decorated by a khoncha, a large silver or copper tray with Samani (wheat) placed in the centre and candles and painted eggs representing the number of family members around it. The feast will consist of at least seven dishes.
While Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, celebration of Novruz was given unofficial status, and even prohibited. although during the Soviet period. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Novruz has surged in popularity and has now regained its position as the key holiday in Azerbaijan.
On 30 September, 2009, Novruz was included into UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. On 23 February 2010, the United Nations declared March 21 the International Day of Novruz.