Nowruz is a public holiday in Iran and some other countries, and it is widely celebrated from the Balkans to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. Thus, its widespread observance in many nations is what led it to be recognised as an official UN observance. Nowruz was also chosen, however, for its promotion of peace and neighbourly kindness across the highly multicultural and diverse region where it is celebrated.
Nowruz is a very ancient holiday. It is believed to have originally been a Zoroastrian celebration, and it certainly became the most important holiday in that religion. But today, it is kept by people of various religious beliefs as a “spring holiday”.
History and origin
Bas-relief in Persepolis, depicting a symbol in Zoroastrianism for Nowruz.
There exist various foundation myths for Nowruz in Iranian mythology.
The Shahnameh credits the foundation of Nowruz to the mythical Iranian King Jamshid, who saves mankind from a winter destined to kill every living creature.Jamshid may symbolise the transition of the Proto-Iranians from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to animal husbandry and a more settled life.To defeat the killer winter, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat, shining like the Sun. The world's creatures gathered and scattered jewels around him and proclaimed that this was the New Day (Now Ruz). This was the first day of Farvardin, which is the first month of the Iranian calendar.
Although it is not clear whether Proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that Iranians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, respectively related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year. Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment: "It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Iranians to develop their own spring festival into an established New Year feast, with the name Navasarda "New Year" (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period)." Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, "it is probable that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.
Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism. In Mithraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the Sun's light. The Iranian festivals such as Mehrgan (autumnal equinox), Tirgan, and the eve of Chelle ye Zemestan (winter solstice) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce,"It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself"; although there is no clear date of origin. Between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan) was celebrated. This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.
The 10th-century scholar Biruni, in his work Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa'il Sina'at al-Tanjim, provides a description of the calendars of various nations. Besides the Iranian calendar, various festivals of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Sabians, and other nations are mentioned in the book. In the section on the Iranian calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tirgan, Mehrgan, the six Gahambars, Farvardigan, Bahmanja, Esfand Armaz and several other festivals. According to him, "It is the belief of the Iranians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion. The Persian historian Gardizi, in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār, under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals, mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster highly emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehrgan
Traditional costume for Nawrız in Kazakhstan.
The festival of Nowruz is celebrated by many groups of people in the Black Sea basin, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Western Asia, central and southern Asia, and by Iranians worldwide.
Places where Nowruz is a public holiday include:
Traditional dancing during a Nowruz festival in Paris
Azerbaijan (five days)
Iran (five days)
Kazakhstan (four days)
Tajikistan (four days)
Turkmenistan (two days)