Noruz, an eternal Iranian tradition

March 17, 2007
On March 21, after the lapse of thousands of years, Iranians from all walks of life enthusiastically celebrate the Noruz festival, irrespective of their age, language, gender, race, ethnicity, or social status.

The word Noruz itself literally means "new day" in the Persian language and the festivity marks the beginning of the solar year as well as the New Year on the Iranian national calendars as well as several others, and usually falls on March 21.

At its core, the Noruz Festival celebrates the rebirth of nature. This reawakening symbolizes the triumph of good over the evil forces of darkness, which are represented by winter.

Noruz is the point when the oppressive presence of the cold winter finally begins to recede with the commencement of the lively and hopeful spring.

This symbolic and romantic change has extensively been expressed in invaluable works of both contemporary and classical Persian poets and writers, which in recent decades have been widely translated into other languages as well.

Persian poems have also been composed which were later performed as songs by great singers from the legendary singer Barbad from the time of Sassanid King Khosrow Parviz to prominent contemporary singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian. Some verses of these poems have even been turned into proverbs by the common people that are used in daily conversation.

Noruz represents much of what Iranian character, history, politics, and religion are all about. For centuries, Persians have applied the Noruz spirit to every dark challenge that has come their way. This spirit has made Noruz far more than just a New Year celebration over the course of history. --------------- History of Noruz: An anchor of hope

It is not known exactly when and how the festival of Noruz emerged in ancient Persia, and historians express different views concerning its historical background, although it seems that Iranians have always celebrated Noruz.

The Morvaj-ul-Zahab says that during the reign of Jamshid, a legendary king of Persia, a typhoon lasting three years struck the land. At the beginning of spring, the typhoon gradually subsided. The people celebrated a great feast called “Noruz” after the devastating typhoon subsided, and at the end of the long winter, people came out from their caves and shelters to celebrate spring.

The great Iranian epic poet Abulqasem Ferdowsi (940-1020) in his masterpiece the Shahnameh, as well as Abu Raihan Biruni, and celebrated Persian poet Hakim Omar Khayyam in his book Noruznameh along with many other classical scholars and Iranian poets have attributed the Noruz festival to the Iranian king Jamshid.

In ancient Persia, Iranians chiefly celebrated two great festivals, mentioned in Dehkhoda's encyclopedic dictionary as well as in old Persian books. Noruz marked the beginning of the seven-month summer, and the Mehregan Festival in early autumn, which is still celebrated by Zoroastrians. According to the prominent Persian scholar Dehkhoda, Iranians wholeheartedly jubilated on both occasions.

The oldest archaeological record for the Noruz celebration comes from the Achaemenid period over 2500 years ago. They created the first major empire in the region and built the Persepolis complex in southern Iran. This magnificent palace/temple complex was destroyed by Alexander the Great.

The Achaemenids had four major residences, one for each season. Persepolis was their spring residence and the site for celebrating the New Year. Bas-reliefs show the king seated on his throne receiving the subjects, governors, and ambassadors from various nations under his control. They are presenting him gifts and paying homage to him. We do not know too much about the details of the rituals but we do know that mornings were spent praying and performing other religious rituals. We also know that marriage ceremonies were performed at this palace.

Throughout their often stormy history, the Persian people have endured the darkest times of hardship, civil wars, world wars, foreign occupation, and the like. Persians have celebrated the height of human civilization and scientific and military achievement through the spirit of Noruz. Such a unifying spirit has often made Noruz the target of much animosity by foreign invaders and anti-national forces throughout the history of Iran.

Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and many others tried to eradicate this holiday and wipe it off the Persian cultural landscape, only to find it preserved by the masses. ---------- Customs and traditions of Noruz-------------------

According to historians, what we have today as Noruz goes back to the Sassanid period. They formed the last great Persian Empire before the advent of Islam. Their celebrations would start ten days prior to the New Year. Bon fires would be set on rooftops at night to indicate to the spirits and the angels that humans were ready to receive them. This was called Chaharshanbeh-Suri (Fireworks Wednesday).

Modern Iranians still do the traditional Noruz spring-cleaning and still celebrate Chaharshanbeh-Suri. Bon fires are made and everyone jumps over the fire on the last Tuesday of the year. This is a purification rite and Iranians believe that by jumping over the fire they will get rid of all their illnesses and misfortunes. All family members line up and take turns jumping safely along (and over) the burning pile of wood, singing to the fire: "Sorkhi-ye toe az man; zardi-ye man az toe." This translates to: "Your redness (health) to me; my paleness (pain) to you."

Noruz has other joyful and interesting traditions that are still celebrated by Iranians and it is difficult to present a full picture of them.

Once the New Year is announced on television or the radio, the younger members of the family will pay respect to the elders by wishing them a Happy New Year and kissing their face and sometimes their hands (a sign of ultimate respect). Relatives kiss and hug, and presents, traditionally cash or coins, are exchanged. Sweets are offered to all to symbolically sweeten their lives for the rest of the year. A small mirror is passed around, rose water is sprinkled into the air and espand, a popular type of incense, is burnt to keep the evil eye away.

The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives, and friends. Children receive presents; sweets and special meals are consumed. ------------------ Noruz and social justice -----------------

Spring, Farvardin, and Noruz are symbolic manifestations of the efforts to reestablish social justice for Iranians, who have always been leaders in the struggle for human rights, as the great Persian civilization clearly shows.

One of the reasons Iranians enthusiastically embraced Islam was that they were seeking social justice and the great Iranian Empire could not ignore the splendid slogans such as "Brotherhood and Equality", which were proclaimed by the army of Islam. Many different researchers, both Eastern and Western, as well as prominent Persian and Arab scholars, have embarked on extensive surveys of the festival and Iranians’ relentless advocacy of social justice.

According to historian George Zeidan, Persians would pay 5,000 to 10,000 silver coins for permission to celebrate Noruz in the Omayyad era. Iranians made strenuous efforts to celebrate the occasion, even though they had to pay a high price. Omayyad rulers greedy for wealth and power sought to strengthen their hegemony, apparently only resorting to Islam as a shield to protect their interests. -------------Noruz promotes the culture of peace and prosperity -----------

Noruz, a symbol of cultural resistance, has withstood the sociopolitical effects of foreign dominance and has always carried an everlasting message of peace and prosperity for Iranians, enabling them to maintain their identity in the face of foreign onslaughts.

The Noruz festival has held out against many disastrous events and incursions, and the people of Iran have demonstrated their firm belief and determination to keep their traditions alive, expelling invaders sooner or later. Eventually expelled from Iran, the invaders realized Iranians would lead a free and independent life in their motherland safeguarding their ancient national culture.

The Noruz festival is the most popular celebration in our society’s history, literature, and poetry, and in the life of the people. The celebrations are also widely commemorated in Tajikistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Syria.

Even with the dawning of a new millennium, man has not yet been able to disentangle himself from the web of a historical deadlock. War, racial discrimination, terrorism, poverty, dictatorship, ethnic cleansing, violations of human rights and freedom of expression, the arms race, and socioeconomic problems are still threatening the very fabric of human society.

We should also remember that Iran is not restricted by its borders. Its spirit is bestowed with spiritual, cultural, religious, and national values inherited from centuries of hard work. The most outstanding feature of these values is found in Iran's national history, literature, Ferdowsi's masterpiece epic the Shahnameh, the poems of Hafez, Sadi, Rumi, and Baba Taher Hamedani, the couplets of Nezami, the Rubaiyat of Khayyam, Iranian traditional music, the intricate designs of the azure tiles of historical monuments, and Noruz.

On the eve of the new Iranian year, people across the world have a great responsibility to understand the universal message of Noruz, since this noble tradition has been passed from generation to generation, with its deep philosophical heritage heralding universal humanitarian values.

The message of Noruz is social interaction, solidarity, unity, social justice, joy, companionship, happiness, freedom of expression, real democracy, and peace and prosperity for humanity.