Observed in Central Asian countries, especially Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Turkey, and parts of Russia
Observed on March 21
Observed by General Public

Navruz is a celebration of the spring or vernal equinox and the most treasured of all Iranian festivals.
For nearly 3,000 years Navruz has been celebrated in one form or another-by Sumerians (the people who inhabited the southern parts of Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq), Elamites (who belonged to the ancient Elamite Empire east of Sumer and Akkad, in what is now southwestern Iran), Babylonians (who lived in the ancient Mesopotamian state of Babylon in what is now modern Iraq, combining the territories of Sumer and Akkad, and whose capital was Babylon), Akaddians (a Semitic people living on the Arabic peninsula during the period of the great Sumerian city-states), Chaldeans, and Persians.The observance of Navruz originated in Zoroastrianism, the oldest of all monotheistic religions. Zoroastrians consider Navruz the last of the seven days of Creation. Throughout the history of the world, however, many cultures have observed the advent of the spring equinox because agriculture and a good harvest were critical to their survival. Muslims and Christians in Egypt observe this occasion on the Monday following Coptic Easter. This holiday, called Sham el Nessim, is believed to have its roots in ancient Egypt. Ancient Slavs, the Aztecs in Latin America, most Native American tribes, and the Japanese have also had celebrations related to the vernal equinox. Since antiquity, the first day of spring was celebrated by early European pagan groups, and by the American pilgrims of the early 18th century as the “common” New Year. The long-held tradition of Navruz and the number of cultures with similar celebrations indicates the importance that people attach to the end of winter and the beginning of the new agricultural year.

Origins and History
Originating in the ancient land of Persia and long connected with the old Zoroastrian religion, Navruz means “new day” in Farsi (the language of the Persians). Originally on this day, kings would wear crowns with icons of the annual solar cycle on their heads and take part in the divine ceremony that was held in the Temple of Fire. They also made it a point to give their subjects gifts.
Notwithstanding the differences in calendars, people in antiquity closely studied the course of the Moon and the Sun and could calculate the exact day on which the season would change. As Turks and other wandering peoples ventured into Central Asia and areas around old Persia, they took up the Navruz celebration. Navruz traditions became deeply rooted in the lives of Eurasian farmers and other people, and it survived the arrival of Islam in the area some 1,400 years ago.
This holiday continues to be widely celebrated in Muslim countries such as Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan as well as the western parts of China. It is also celebrated among the Kurds in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, and by the Bashkirs and Tatars in the southern parts of Russia.
During the late 20th century, many central Asian republics made Navruz an official holiday.
Today Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the Sun enters the astrological sign of Aries. This date regularly corresponds with the spring equinox. In the Gregorian calendar, the spring equinox fluctuates between March 19 and 21.
In most countries located along the legendary Silk Road, Navruz is seen as the harbinger of nature’s joyful awakening after the cold winter months and the start of planting, cultivating, and harvesting of crops. Navruz traditions are more or less similar in all parts of the region and have changed little over the ages.
Navruz is observed during the daytime, and celebrations are kept within the family. Navruz is traditionally a time to “clean up” lives. People clean their homes, wash draperies and rugs, adorn the house with flowers, and purchase new clothes. On Navruz day all housekeeping duties, including meal preparation and the cleaning of the house, should be complete before the morning star Venus appears in the sky (Venus is visible early in the morning during certain periods of the year). Children particularly look forward to Navruz because they get gifts, money, and blessings from their elders.
On Navruz people congratulate each other, saying “Nowruz-e-tan Mubarak” (“Happy Navruz”) or “Sal-e-Now-e-tan Mubarak” (“Happy New Year”), shake hands, and embrace each other. The religious ceremonies begin in the morning with a “Jashan,” or prayer of thanksgiving to God, and the sacred fire is lit, while sandalwood and incense are burned. Wearing the padam (the cloth covering the mouth and the nose to prevent contamination of the fire), the priest recites excerpts from the Avesta (the sacred book of the Parsee) while making symbolic offerings of fruit, water, and flowers.
This festival is consecrated to the seventh creation-fire-and its guardian angel is Amesha Spenta (holy immortal spirit) Asha, the personification of truth. Tokens represent all the natural elements that are cared for by Amesha Spenta: ritual implements (the sky), the vessel with the water (water), fruits and flowers (plants), milk (animals), the priests themselves (human beings), and, of course, fire.
Zoroastrian customs require that the celebratory table (also known as Haft Sheen) be displayed during Navruz. It must have seven essential items whose names begin with the letter s (sheen in Persian).
These include seeb (apples), which represent beauty and aesthetic appeal; seer (garlic), which is used to ward off ill-health; sabzeh (wheat sprouts), which symbolize the rebirth of nature; sekkeh (coins), which represent wealth; serkeh (vinegar), which signifies old age, maturity, and patience; senjed (fruit of the lotus plant), a token of love; and sonbol (hyacinth), which stands for general well-being.
A mirror, which reflects the past and reveals the future for individuals, and painted eggs, tokens of fertility and the sprouting of life, should also be placed on the table. Because fire is sacred to Zoroastrians, and characteristic of the energy and strength of a virtuous life, there should be lighted candles, whose flames symbolize fire. The table must also have burning incense (the fumes are meant to ward off evil spirits), a bowl of rosewater, known for its magical cleansing powers, and a sacred book of scripture beside a vessel filled with water in which a live goldfish swims. The water and the fish represent a contented life full of action and development.
The other items commonly present include sea buckthorn berries, sugar, wine, honey, syrup, sweets, rice, and milk. Over the celebratory table a portrait or image of Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, must be displayed.
Around Navruz, families pay homage to their deceased relatives and pray for them. They also go to shrines of saints and holy men and place lighted candles in niches dug in the walls in their honor. It is a common practice to visit relatives and friends for the 13 days following Navruz, plant seedlings of fruit trees, and have joyful gatherings.
During ancient times in Central Asia, the holiday was observed in agricultural oases with bazaars, horse racing, festivals, and cockfights. The Uzbeks zealously adhere to the custom of consuming the traditional dish sumalyak. It tastes like molasses-flavored cream of wheat and is prepared with flour and sprouted wheat grains. Sumalyak is cooked rather slowly on a wood fire; sometimes spices are added gradually. Sprouted grain is the symbol of life, abundance, and health.
Tajiks, who are closer to Persians than Turks in their lifestyle and habits, have a unique custom. In a Tajik home, the head of the household or the eldest son must prepare a sweet pilaf and fried shish kebab that consists of chunks of lamb or chicken grilled on a skewer. It is usually served with Persian polo (longgrained rice). These savory dishes symbolize the aspirations of the people who pray and hope that the rest of the year will be happy and fulfilling.