Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015



Springtime is just ten days away! And no one celebrates the Coming of Spring like Central Asia. Since ancient times, the Spring Equinox is the region's biggest party. Called Nowruz (Persian: New Day), it is an official holiday in fourteen countries including Iran, Georgia, Uzbekistan and...the best STAN of them all...KYRGYZSTAN! Confused? Here are five things you need to know about NOWRUZ.

#1. Spring Equinox. Given the scientific nature of their society, it comes as no surprise that Ancient Persians were advanced astronomers. Priests calculated...down to the exact second...when the sun is precisely over the Equator. BAM! This is when the festival officially starts. Today, Central Asians have digital clocks counting down the days, hours and minutes left to the start of Nowruz. It is much like the New Year's Eve countdowns in the US.

#2. Zoraster. Also known as Zarathustra, he is the prophet of the Zoroastrian faith and is credited with 'inventing' the holiday. Born in 1250 BC, he predates Moses, Buddha and Jesus. His simple message is to seek out truth 'asha' and reject lies 'druj.' There is no pre-determinism: Individuals choose their fates. By doing good deeds, we increase the divine force and we all creep closer to being a better planet. Zoraster chose the First Day of Spring as the main holiday because it is the happiest day of the year.

#3. Omar Khayyam. Just like Clement Clark Moore's poem began our Santa Claus cult, Persian poet Omar Khayyam's poem 'Nowruznama' cemented Nowruz traditions. His descriptions of the celebrations in the Royal Court were detailed. Today, homes recreated these decorations, songs and meals. Here's an example:

Wind and rain have gone. Lord Nowurz has come.
Friends, convey this message. The New Year has come again
This spring be your good luck. The tulip fields be your joy.  

The meal of choice is noodles. But don't just wolf them down. Untangling them first will help straighten out your soul. NOTE: You can thank Omar for the Nowruz Santa equivalent: Haji Firouz. He even wears a red suit with a silly hat!

#4. Fire Jumping. The main symbol of Nowruz is fire. To incorporate this into the celebrations, Iranians perform the Chahar Shanbeh Soori, which loosely translates into Crazy Fire Jumping. People light bonfires in the streets and then run and jump over them. While in mid-air, you shout: 'Zardee Maan Aztoh,' which rids you of sickness and bad luck. When you reach the other side of the fire-pit, you will have health and good luck.

#5 Nowruz and Islam. Up until the year 750 AD, Zoroastrianism was a major religion. It commanded as many adherents as Buddhism and Hinduism and dwarfed the tiny Christian and Jewish populations. But it was no match for Islam. Voracious jihads converted all but the most fervent followers, who were forced to locate to remote regions of Yazd in Eastern Iran (where they still live today!) However, powerful Islam was unable to stop Persians from celebrating their favorite holiday. Today, its popularity is as big as ever. Iran will close down for the next two weeks to celebrate the now-secular NOWRUZ.

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