Happy New Year - Sal-e-Now Mubarak
Just like these lovely Afghan children, as a little girl I dressed up in traditional clothes on Nowroz
In the United States most people I have encountered are familiar with “Nouroz” or New Year which is considered to be an exclusively Persian holiday only celebrated by Iranians. The truth is, what was originally a Zoroastrian festival is now celebrated in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kurdistan, the Indian Sub Continent and many other countries in the world.
Although each country celebrates it a little differently, it always centers around the celebration of spring and the beginning of a new year. March 2oth in Afghanistan marks the start of year 1392, a date based on Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 BC.
People ask me about Afghan culture, customs and traditions all the time.
I sometimes find it hard to answer such questions in a simple way. What makes it difficult to explain is that lot of our traditions and customs are influenced by religion, cultural traditions, provincial resources and of course each family’s traditions. So, I will tell you about Nowroz from my Afghan family’s perspective.
The first day of Nowroz or the Afghan calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring. An equinox occurs when the sun crosses the celestial equator; day and night are of nearly equal length at all latitude. The March equinox generally occurs around March 21st, give or take a couple of days. Nowroz means new day in Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the planning for Nowroz starts two weeks before the actual date. There are many preparations that go into celebrating the New Year and you guessed it, food is the most important part of the festivities. Afghan refugees around the world organize Nowroz celebrations that allows their communicties to come together and celebrate.
I have to admit, Nowroz was not a big holiday for my family, but thanks to my extended family we had a great taste of it. Growing up, Nowroz was always bittersweet because while I loved the food and the festivals, it also signaled the start of the school year. In Afghanistan children go to school from March to November, Saturday to Thursday. Next time your kids complain about school tell them Afghan children go to school six days a week. That should set them straight.
Afghan Nowroz Celebration 101
There are many customs around Nowroz but here are the most common ones that I have experienced with Afghans:
My aunts’ preparation of a very special drink called Haft Mewa (seven fruits) was the highlight of Nowroz for me. Haft Mewa which we are calling the Afghan New Year Fruit Medly on this blog is essentially compote made from seven different dried fruits and nuts served in their own juices. Traditionally the seven ingredients are as follows: red raisins, black raisins, yellow raisins, senjid (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), pistachio, dried apricot, and dried apple. Our Haft Mawa recipe is very flexible, we have formed it around what one can find at Trader Joe's a popular American grocery store.
This is a special sweet made from wheat germ which requires several weeks of perparation. The custom is for women to gather, essentially a “girls’ night in” and prepare the dish from late in the evening until daylight, singing special songs. I was in Afghanistan the Spring of 2006. My cousin invited me to attend her Samanak party. I was afraid to leave my hotel at night so I declined. Instead I stayed in my guest house with my beer drinking, whiskey jugging travel mates. You can imagine how sorry I am for missing this wonderful opportunity.
Mela e Gul e Surkh:
It means the Red Flower Festival referring to the red tulip. It’s mainly celebrated in Mazar i Sharif in Northern Afghanistan where many people travel to experience the gorgeous flowers. However, I do remember tulips at our house and around town during the Nowroz celebration in Kabul and even to this day when I see tulips I think of this holiday.
I have to say the Buzkashi tournament ranks pretty high on my list of memories, perhaps as high as the Haft Mewa. Buzkashi is the Afghan national sport, similar to polo but we use…. are you ready…. a dead stuffed goat instead of a “ball”. Buzkashi was made famous this year by a movie called Buzkashi Boys which was nominated for an academy award.
People cook SabziChallaw (spinach and rice) on the eve of Nowroz to welcome spring and a prosperous crop for the coming year. Also, bakeries make Kulcha e Nowrozy, a special rice cookie very similar to our Gluten Free Butter Cookies, but decorated in red and green colors in honor of the holiday. People also make or buy Mahi (fried fish) and Jelabi (fried sugar dessert) mostly eaten at picnics.
Festivals and Picnics:
There are many festivals celebrating spring and the upcoming crop. People go on picnics to enjoy the greenery, flowers and time with family. People also go to shrines to pray for their families, the sick and a good new year. Of course, kite flying, a national pastime in Afghanistan, is at the center of all these outings.
There is much more to say but I will stop now. I am thrilled to share about my country and this rich festival.
Do you have Nowroz stories to share with us?
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