Celebration of Novruz in Azerbaijan
This Azerbaijani tradition is one of the most interesting. Novruz is a feast of spring, coming of New Year. Before Novruz Azerbaijanis celebrate a number of previous days saying good bye to the Old year and welcoming the New year. These days are the four pre-holiday Wednesdays: Su Chershenbe (Water Wednesday),Odlu Chershenbe (Fire Wednesday), Torpag Chershenbe (Earth Wednesday) and Akhyr Chershenbe (Last Wednesday). According to the traditional beliefs the water is reborn on the first Wednesday: still waters come to motion; The fire does on the second one, the earth - on the third. On the fourth Wednesday the wind opens tree buds and spring begins.
Many ceremonies and devotions are dedicated to this day. For example in the evening each family should light the number of torches on their house's roof corresponding to the number of the family members. Everyone should jump over the burning fire saying a kind of a spell. After the fire dies out girls and young men collect the remaining ash and pour it somewhere in the outskirts of the village or a road.
It means that the hardships of those who have jumped over the fire are destroyed and thrown out far beyond their homes.
In order to find the happy match unmarried girls throw black coins, a sign of bad luck, to a water-filled jug during the daytime and in the evening before sunset they pour this water out together with the coins outside.
On "Akhyr Cheshenbe" before dark there comes the time of fortune telling. Azerbaijani girls and young men sneak to doors of their neighbors and "overheard" their conversation; then on the basis of the first words they have heard they try to tell their fortune and guess if their wishes will come true. On this day many families also tell fortunes using Khafiz book.
Among holiday ceremonies the most important one is the cooking of samani (millet porridge) which is a symbol of nature and human fertility and has a cult value. The ceremony of the cooking of samani is accompanied by ceremonial songs and dances.
The last day of the old year is considered a special feast by Azerbaijanis. On the holiday eve entire family gather at home. For the head of the family a special mat is laid. He says prayers; no one is allowed to eat without his permission. As soon as the gun shot sounds signaling the beginning of the meal, the mistress brings in milk pilau. If the gate is open on this day it means that the host is at home. If visitors come to the house they are welcomed by the eldest son or the nephew of the host. The guest is then offered rose water for hand washing and invited into the house. The head of the family gives a sign and the tea is immediately served for the guest. Such visits are paid for three days. Then there comes the women's turn to celebrate Novruz for a week.
On the last night of the old year all family members spray each other with water before going to bed "to wash off" all hardships of the old year.
Finally the holiday starts. Everyone puts on new clothes and begins partying. Nobody works on this day.
Today in Azerbaijan the official celebration of Novruz comes on March 21st. On the first day of the New year it is a tradition to rise early in the morning. If it is possible people go where water is -to a river or a spring: wash themselves, splash water on each other. Water is a symbol of cleanliness and freshness. Right there they treat each other with sweets. On this morning it is obligatory to eat something sweet for example honey or sugar. Then it is necessary to smell a fragrant smoke that is the way of getting rid of "evil spirits".
The holiday table on this day is very special. It is essential on this day to have seven dishes whose names begin with the letter "s". They are sumakh, skad (milk), sirke (vinegar), samani (aspecial millet porridge), sabzi (greens) etc . Except for the listed dishes there should be a mirror, a candle and a painted egg on the table. All these have a symbolical significance: a candle means light or fire protecting a person from evil spirits. An egg and a mirror are necessary to mark the end of the old year and beginning of the first day of the new. Azerbaijanis put the painted egg on the mirror. As soon as the egg moves the New Year begins. Everyone sitting at the table starts wishing a happy new year to each other.
As a rule during holidays the doors are not locked. It means that the family is home and glad to welcome guests. Children visit their friends and relatives with little bags for holiday presents.
On the first day of the New Year the houses should be lit all night long. Putting the light off is a bad omen.
New Year celebrations are finished on the 13th day of Novruz. On this day in the city outskirts are held mass parties with traditional games and contests like horse or camel races in which both men and women take part. The ancient spring holiday - Novruz bairamy - is one of the oldest and most beautiful Azerbaijani traditions.