Azerbaijan, the land of fire, has been celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, that marks the first day of spring.
“Nowruz” means “new day” in Persian. During the festivities, dancers and athletes fill the streets, celebrating the change of season.
“Nowruz symbolises the spinning of the Earth around the sun, the change of seasons and the beginning of the new working season in the fields. Rulers used to stop fighting, sign peace treaties and release prisoners during Nowruz,” says historian Kamalya Islamzade.
Following an age-old tradition, the sacred fire of the ancient Atashgan Zoroastrian Fire Temple is brought by torch to the central square in Surakhani to light up the Nowruz bonfire.
“The Nowruz fire must come from a sacred place. You can compare it to the Olympic tradition, where the fire from Greece travels all over the world. So, when we celebrate Nowruz, we always take the fire from the ancient Zoroastrian Atashgan fire temple,” says Rashid Babai, director of the Atashgan Zoroastrian Fire Temple Museum.
Fire has always played a central role in Nowruz celebrations. The people of Azerbaijan believe in its purifying power. Fire is survival, it provides warmth, life and food.
The Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnography in the village of Gala, near the capital Baku, is home to a 5,000-year old circle of stones. At its heart is a fireplace.
“The coming of the spring, Nowruz – the new year – the awakening of Nature – all of this was celebrated around that central hearth, the fireplace at the heart of this circle of stones,” says Fikret Abdulaev, the museum’s director.
Demonstrations of strength by athletes or “pehlevans” is one of the oldest Nowruz traditions.
Members of the Ramazanli family have been lifting weights for centuries. Everyone takes part in the celebrations, young and old. Grandpa Magomedali is almost 60 and he thinks that his powers come from Nowruz.
“When winter comes our body is like frozen. Even though the weights don’t feel the frost, they seem heavier and it takes much more effort to lift them. But when Nowruz comes our blood starts to boil. We show our skills. We conquer winter and we help spring take over,” says Magomedali Ramazanli.
Another secret weapon to fight off winter are the sweet dishes that restore energy lost during the cold months.
It is impossible to imagine Nowruz without the smell of freshly-made pastries prepared by grandma.
Our correspondent learned how to cook one dish called “the Queen of the Nowruz table’‘.
“An essential part of the Nowruz table is “shekerbura”. This half-moon shaped pastry symbolizes the flame of fire. The main ingredients are the warmth of your heart and patience, because you need a lot of time and patience to create these patterns. Each one is unique,” says euronews correspondent Galina Polonskaya.
Another rule during Nowruz is that you are only allowed to say positive things. Everyone knows that a single word can change the destiny of someone who might be listening secretly behind a closed door.
“Young women listen behind closed doors during Nowruz. If someone speaks about marriage, it means that the young lady behind the door will get married in the coming year. If she hears something positive, it will happen,” says Azad Rzaev, the dean of Baku University history department.
Young women often turn to fortune telling during Nowruz. It is said that the number of times a wedding ring touches a glass when being pulled out on a string reveals how old a woman will be when she gets married. According to another tradition, all your troubles will go away if you put coins into a pitcher of water and pour it into the river or the sea.
And if your dreams didn’t come true this Nowruz, don’t give up, you can always try again next year!