It is documented, that Azerbaijan is one of the most ancient countries not only in Europe, but the world over… And so does its tradition and culture, which dates back to hundreds of millions of years. But no matter how ancient, the country's traditions and culture has been preserved and today, it is still nurtured by even the youngest. But you cannot talk about culture and tradition in Azerbaijan without mentioning Novruz...
There is more to March in Azerbaijan that what meets a strangers eye. Passion lingers in Azerbaijan's skies. The lovely, reminiscent smells of dried fruits, candles, pastries, walnuts, hazelnuts and spices; fill up the atmosphere. And the traditional sound of joy and happiness is hard even beyond horizons. The aroma of ancient history unfolds – and it is NovruzBayrami a holiday for all.It refers to the beginning of spring, a new harvest and start of agricultural activities, renewal and warm days.
There are several versions about the origin of this festive season; but which one holds the most credibility, remains to be seen. Today, Novruz is celebrated by almost 400 million citizens in about 20 countries in Eastern Europe and central Asia. However, historians agree that this ritual has been celebrated in Azerbaijan since the third millenium BC.
As elsewhere, Novruzsends the young and old, foreign and local - into a mass spectacle of celebrations, gatherings, ritual rites and festivities. There are concerts, contests of culinary experts and pehlevans (wrestlers), magic and acrobatic shows arranged in central squares all over the country.
In Baku, numerous metropolitan areas, public parks and alleys are transformed into the perfect venues for Novruz festivities and concerts. The main festival areas are the Maiden Tower and Boulevard territory; where hundreds of thousands of Bakunians and guests of the city converge to rejoice and celebrate.
Historically, the Norvuzcelebrations and preparations began four weeks before the actual day of festivity. The four weeks - or exactly four Wednesdays - were each devoted to one of the four elements and called correspondingly, although names varied from location to location. They were: Su Charhshanba (Water Wednesday), OdluCharhshanba (Flame Wednesday), TorpaqCharhshanba (Earth Wednesday), AkhirCharhshanba (Last Wednesday). According to folk beliefs, on Water Wednesday 'water renewed and dead-water came to stir'; the Flame Wednesday was believed the day of fire re-birth; on Earth Wednesday the earth revived. On the Last Wednesday, the wind opened tree buds and spring arrived.
The Holy Table
The holiday table on this day is very special. It is essential on this day to have seven dishes whose names begin with the letter "s: Sumaq (sumac) represents the color of the sun at sunrise; Samani (wheat sprouts) represents sweetness, fertility and children; Sikke (coins)for good luck; Su (water) for purity, rebirth and health; Sabzi (vegetable) for purity and good fortune; Sud (milk) for health and natural beauty; Sarikok (yellow ginger) to represent sweetness in life.
In addition to the listed dishes, there should be a mirror, a candle and a painted egg on the table - all of which have a symbolical significance. Acandle means light or fire protecting a person from evil spirits. An egg and a mirror are necessary to mark the end of the old year and beginning of the first day of the new. Azerbaijanis put the painted egg on the mirror. As soon as the egg moves the New Year begins. Everyone sitting at the table starts wishing a happy new year to each other.
The decoration on the festive table is khoncha, a big silver or copper tray with Samani placed in the centre and candles and dyed eggs. These always have to correspond by the number of family members around the table. Such tables are always stocked with at least seven dishes. Though there are many various dishes cooked in the festive evening, 'the hit of the program' of each table is a pilaf with "gara" – a mixture of meat and dried fruits. Those living at the seaside prefer to use kutum instead of meat – the favorite fish of the Azerbaijanis.
In Novruz women also bake special sweets, which are an indispensable part of the Novruz celebrations.
Sweets such as pakhlava (a diamond shaped thinly layered pastry filled with nuts and sugar) are common. These sweets are mostly enjoyed by children and they are regarded as wishes of good health and luck.
Throughout the country, however, the festive traditions of Novruz differ from region to region. The variations in celebrations largely depend on history, ethnic origins and lifestyles. However no matter what the distinctions are, they make Novruz more colorful and polyphonic.
After being celebrated for more than 3000 years, Novruz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009;
In 2010, the UN's Secretary General Assembly recognized Novruz as an international day;
Azeri kids love Novruz "trick-or-treating". They leave a hat on the doorstep, knock and hide – and whoever opens the door must put candies in the hat!
Unmarried girls also throw black coins, which are a symbol of bad luck, into a water-filled jug during day time in order to find their perfect match. In the evening, before sunset they pour this water with the coins outside.