Graphic by Gauraang Biyani

Nowrouz: The Celebration of a New Year

Learn more about the Nowrouz tradition, the celebration of the spring equinox.

Mar 5, 2017

Nowrouz, the Persian celebration of the Spring Equinox, is coming up on March 21 this year. Although Persian in origin, Nowrouz is now celebrated by more than 187 million people worldwide and is officially celebrated in eleven countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Over its thousands of years of history, the celebration has been associated with a variety of feelings by different cultures. Ali Bahrami, Class of 2020, who is from Afghanistan, defined Nowrouz as a fresh start which bears close to the literal meaning of the name of the celebration, a new day. Gulnoza Mansur, Class of 2017, from Tajikistan, identifies Nowrouz not just as a celebration with delicious food and festive outfits — although those are a large part of it — but also as the renewal of nature. To me, it’s all of that; it’s a time for friends, families and neighbors to gather, put away their differences and celebrate the new year together.
Nowrouz, which has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, is deeply rooted in the practices and rituals of the Zoroastrian faith of the Sassanian era. The Sassanian empire ruled Persia from the third to the seventh century AD. Though Nowrouz has a religious origin, the celebration is today neither religious or national in nature, nor is it an ethnic celebration. Armenians, Turkish Iranians and Central Asians celebrate it with the same enthusiasm and sense of belonging.
In the minds of those who celebrate it, Nowrouz incites color, elegance, food and opulence as well as simplicity. Mansur says that in Tajikistan, people get almost two weeks off to celebrate and everybody, especially women, is encouraged to wear vibrant-colored traditional dresses. But no celebration would be complete without food. Bahrami explained that because Afghanistan is an agricultural state, Nowrouz is especially joyful there as it welcomes spring and the revival of nature. During this time, Afghans flock to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where red flowers and tulips grow, to celebrate the festival. There they hold picnics on the green and flowery steppes of the north; women prepare special dishes such as Sabzi Chalaw which is made up of rice, spinach and meat, Samanak, a sweet dish made of germinated wheat and Seven Fruits Salad comprised of raisins, Senjed, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, as well as pistachios, hazelnuts, prunes, walnuts, almonds or other plum fruit.
Nowrouz is special because it does not belong to a single culture. Riaz Howey, Class of 2017, who is Iranian and a New Zealander, says that for him Nowrouz isn’t just a Persian celebration, but has rather spread and been developed by cultures all over the world including the Pacific Islanders, East Asians and Europeans that he grew up celebrating with. He fondly remembers the “giant feasts inaugurated by Nowrouz and the season of visiting others,” and said that he misses “celebrating the spiritual renewal communally.”
The beauty of Nowrouz, as Howey pointed out, is that no matter where you are in the world, there are people that are celebrating it. Mansur says that while she was staying in New York City last year, there was a spectacular Nowrouz Parade along twelve blocks of Madison Avenue with floats of all countries celebrating Nowrouz and music bands and dance ensembles. Even here in the UAE there are several locations where Nowrouz is celebrated such as various Persian restaurants in Abu Dhabi and the Iranian Club in Dubai.
*Video by Gulnoza Mansur*
When asked what parts they missed the most about Nowrouz here in the UAE, the common sentiment was what Bahrami termed the Nowrouz vibe. He described it as a time when the whole country was hyped up for the day and you could sense the forward-looking and positive energy of the people.
“The Gregorian New Year is also vibrant, but it doesn’t give that same sense of home and new start,” said Bahrami.
Others, like Mansur, missed their family and described Nowrouz as a time when one spends time with loved ones and shares with them the joy of celebration.
If you’re interested in learning more about Nowrouz, students on campus are planning to hold a small gathering to celebrate the occasion. Contact the author for more information.
Seyed Mohammad is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email him at
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