Iranians to stay at home to welcome New Year, isolate new virus
Compiled from Dispatches
Each year, millions of Iranians celebrate one of the most significant holidays Norouz, Persian New Year, in Iran and throughout the world.
But this year Iran called people to spend Norouz holidays in their homes amid mounting losses due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Iran’s Culture Minister Abbas Salehi on March 12 asked people to take the precaution in order to prevent a “national disaster” due to the spreading virus, IRNA wrote.
In addition, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Iran has forced the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism to call off the nationwide Norouz celebrations and enforce the closure of all museums as well as the cultural and historic sites in the Persian New Year’s holidays across the country.
Iranian Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Ali-Asghar Mounesan sent letters to the director generals of the ministry’s offices in all 31 provinces in the country, ordering them to cancel the Norouz festivals and shut down the museums during the holidays.
In the Persian language, Norouz is taken from no (new) and rouz (day). It means ‘new day’, symbolizing new life, and new beginnings. Every year, Norouz coincides with the start of spring and traditionally celebrates the rebirth of the nature. It also coincides with the spring equinox.
In recognition of the importance of this ancient rite, Norouz was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. The UN General Assembly recognized March 21 as the International Day of Norouz in 2010. More precisely, however, Norouz marks the day of the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, which can occur anytime between March 19-22, depending on the year as well as one’s location. In 2016, it was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Canada also passed a law recognizing March 21 as Norouz Day.
UNESCO has registered Norouz celebrations as shared practices of 12 countries. Iran, Azerbaijan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan were listed by the UN agency in 2009 as countries where Norouz is celebrated. A new proposal was drawn up last year to include five more countries namely Afghanistan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Renowned Muslim scholars, such as the Persian Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, known as Biruni (973-1048), Mahmud ibn Hussayn ibn Muhammed al-Kashgari (1005-1102), and Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) were among the many intellectuals who studied the date of Norouz, UNESCO wrote.
According to UNESCO, Norouz is a rite dating back to at least the 6th century BCE, marking the New Year and ushering in the spring.
Norouz is celebrated by peoples of many religions and cultures across this vast region. Some of the festival’s earliest origins lie in Zoroastrianism, marking one of the holiest days in the ancient Zoroastrian calendar. The return of the spring was seen to have great spiritual significance, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and joy over sorrow. In particular, the ‘Spirit of Noon’, known as ‘Rapithwina’, who was considered to be driven underground by the ‘Spirit of Winter’ during the cold months, was welcomed back with celebrations at noon on the day of Norouz according to Zoroastrian tradition.
Norouz is also associated with a great variety of local traditions, including the legend of Jamshid, a king in Persian mythology. To this day in Iran, Norouz celebrations are sometimes referred to as Norouz-e Jamshidi. According to the myth, Jamshid was carried through the air in a chariot, a feat that so amazed his subjects that they established a festival on that day. Similar mythological narratives exist in Indian and Turkish traditions, while the legend of Amoo Norouz is popular in the countries of Central Asia.
Norouz is celebrated in a wide range of ways in different cities of Iran as there are many different ethnic groups and a great cultural diversity across the country.
The first customs to welcome Persian New Year is Chaharshanbe Suri or bonfire night which will be celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year.
Chaharshanbe Suri continues with a ritual later in the night, with people disguising themselves with long scarves and going door-to-door in the neighborhood. Iranian people do some trick or treating, literally called spoon-banging, where youngsters in disguises visit neighbors and receive snacks.
By the light of the bonfires they have lit, they run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons in a ceremony called Qashoq-Zani to beat out the last unlucky Wednesday of the year, while they knock on doors to ask for treats. Indeed, Halloween is a Celtic variation of this night.
According to IFP, it is customary to cook special cookies in North Khorasan Province. They are cooked with the help of all members of the family, and the process is a usual custom for families in North Khorasan.
Breaking clay jars during the final days of the year and after Chaharshanbe Suri is a significant custom of Iranians in South Khorasan. They throw a jar with some water from the highest point of the house to the yard to symbolically remove the dirt and grieves of the past year.
They celebrate the New Year by growing grains, dying their hands with henna and helping the needy. They wear new red and green clothes, and set seven items starting with “S” sound at a table. The only difference is that they put Siah Daneh (Nigella sativa) at the table.
Among the Gilak rituals one can refer to New Year’s greetings. Norouz Khani is a tradition in which well-voiced artists sing songs to herald and welcome Norouz and spring. They go to different neighborhoods and homes as the couriers of spring.
Also, another ancient Norouz ritual, which is now outdated, is throwing the mirror. A few days before Norouz, a number of youths decorate a rectangular mirror with flowers and attach it to a long string, and after eating dinner, place the mirrors inside the room of the neighbors. In return for the mirror, they get coins, eggs and some sweets.
In southeastern Iran, the people of Sistan and Baluchestan Province go to the Mount Khajeh on the first day of the New Year, dancing and celebrating Norouz. In Norouz, they begin the new year in peace, reconciliation and amity. It means that they seek reconciliation at the same ceremony.
In Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, on the first Saturday of the New Year women and children get out of the house, and combat the evil by cutting newly-grown edible plants. They call it “Saturdays Excursion”. This custom is not family-based and daily food is not taken out of the home. It is specifically held by women and children.