Novruz -- the Big Azerbaijani Holiday

Baku Travel Blog

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Novruz is Azerbaijan's main festival.  Last year when i was living in Nakhchivan, I had a multi-entry visa to Turkey burning a hole in my passport and eight days off from work.  I made the decision to go to Turkey at that time instead of observing this festival.  As I am unsure of what my future holds after August, I decided to stay in Baku and check out Novruz.

Before getting into this holiday further, I should explain Azerbaijan is often referred to as the "Land of Fire."  There are temples north of Baku where fire was once worshipped and flames still continually burn.  Furthermore, there are areas here where flames burn permanently from the natural supply of oil and gas oozing from the ground.

Novruz is an ancient "new years" holiday which predates Islam and even Zoroastrianism, one of the first monothesist religions, although both religions adopted this festivals and added to it.  It coincides with the Spring Equinox.  It literally means "new day" in Persian although in Iran the festival is downplayed.  While Novruz officially occurs on the 21 of March, the holiday begins on the 20th after sunset. 

The days leading up to the festival are also important.  Two weeks before the festival, families start spring cleaning their homes and start growing wheat and barley on special plates.  Each Tuesday before Novruz has special significance and each represents one of the four elements.  The final Tuesday represents fire. 

There are many traditions during Novruz.
fire jumping
  One is children ringing doorbells, leaving hats in front of the door which in turn are to be filled with candy or other treats.  I was not prepared for that this year so the kids were disappointed.  The big tradition is people jumping over a fire.  This was the big activity here in Baku as along several streets close to where i live, several bonfires burned.  If i did not know it was a holiday it could have passed as a riot scene from a distance.  I made the mistake of not taking my mounted flash with me when i went out to photograph the event so the accompanying photographs are not so good.  I spoke with on teenager who knew English very well.  He described the tradition as the fire representing the burning of the past year, in other words forgetting the past.
  The act of jumping represented the movement from the past year to the present year.  Considering things a little more, i would think that no one really wants to get burnt by their past so the leap is very important.  According to anthropologists this tradition is linked to an ancient Zoroastrian rite.  While watching kids and young men jump over the fire, i have both Metallica's "Jump Into the Fire" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" playing in my head at the same time.  I was tempted to try leaping over the fire, but two things stopped me.  First, my sprained ankle is not 100% and second, i remember my mother telling me when i was a child that if you play with fire you will wet the bed.  I know it was merely something mothers tell their children to not play with fire, but still it was something that i did not want to risk.
Kids demonstrating a game played during Novruz

Some kids tried to show me a game.  It was an egg game where two chldren each had an egg.  One tapped the other egg and whichever one cracked lost.  I have no idea if they had a champion egg of the area or not, but I am sure even if it was a champion it would not get spared from being ate.

Later in the evening, there were fireworks from behind the main government building.  I had a good view from the walkway in front of my apartment.
Even later, i went to a club, expecting for a lot of people to be out, unfortunately it was namely guys out and about.  After a few beers I got bored and returned home to check the UNLV score and crashed.

Talking with some friends and students here, i have been told that most people spend this holiday with their family.  If there is one thing that I will say about  most Azerbaijani people, it would be that family is huge.  It is endearing even if you do not have a family.
IceTea says:
love this traditional stuff :)
Posted on: Oct 31, 2008
Marius1981 says:
strange. we have the egg thing here as well, but we do it with easter eggs on easter. (boiled eggs painted red). but dont ask me why... it just is since ever
Posted on: Apr 14, 2008
Kenul says:
I jumped over many bonfires and threw many hats at the doors in the past, which is great fun, but we are grown up now so we use our week off during the holidays as an opportunity to go abroad with Hatira. This year it was Turkey. We only visited Istanbul but it was great. What did you do during holidays? I hope you got treated to some pakhlava and shakarbura by locals?
Posted on: Mar 28, 2008
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fire jumping
fire jumping
Kids demonstrating a game played d…
Kids demonstrating a game played …
Is it just me or does it look like…
Is it just me or does it look lik…
photo by: RJawad