In Azerbaijan they have been celebrating the traditional festival of Novruz, which translates as “the new day,” and is dedicated to the renewal of the earth and the spring equinox, the day winter ends and spring begins.
Traditionally two characters stage the fight of the seasons on streets across the country. One, Kechal, represents the spring, while Kyosa is the winter. It is not hard to predict who will win this traditional fight during Novruz.
They fight with coloured eggs, and broken ones symbolise defeat. The eggs are on the same plate as the traditional pastries, sweets and nuts – foods that helped people gain energy after the long winter when vitamin pills did not exist.
Cockfighting and horse races are also part of Novruz celebrations in Azerbaijan, where their traditions were preserved despite being prohibited during the Soviet era.
The village of Gonagkend has a special link with Novruz because its name means “village of guests” which makes it a perfect match with Novruz. During the celebrations front doors are always open, any stranger is invited in to eat.
Novruz lasts for almost a month, the four Tuesdays preceding it being dedicated to the four elements – water, wind, earth and fire.
Baklava is one of the foods very closely associated with the festival. Every region has its own recipe for baklava, with different colours and nuts, but always the same diamond shape, symbolising a woman.
But the key element is fire. People jump over bonfires in order to get rid of their problems. The festival dates back thousands of years. Professor Meherrem Hasanli, author of ‘Encyclopedia of Novruz’, explained: “I think that Novruz has existed as long as humanity. Everywhere in the Northern hemisphere people have celebrated this holiday.”
Some researchers think Novruz began in Gobustan, just 60 kilometres from Baku. Around 6,000 engravings dating back 5,000 to 20,000 years have been discovered and there is some evidence that people celebrated the beginning of the spring by dancing around “eternal fires”, the burning of natural gas coming out of the Earth.
Some of the engravings depict this traditional dance, and modern people still believe in the power of fire. During Novruz they light them in the villages, and in the courtyards of large apartment blocks in Baku. There is also the tradition of secretly listening to your neighbours, in order to make your dreams come true!
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