Even though Istanbul and many other parts of Turkey have seen heavy snowfall this week and unseasonably low temperatures, spring is here.
The ancient festival of Nevruz that celebrates the arrival of spring is being observed extensively this year in Turkey after a two-year wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a toll on the country in more ways than one.
The festival is an opportunity for many to warm up around bonfires before jumping over them in a widely observed tradition.
Professor Alimcan Inayet, a Turkish folklore expert from Ege University, said that Nevruz signifies solidarity and peace among humankind.
The professor noted that Nevruz, or Nowruz, is celebrated in a number of Turkic countries where it goes by different names, such as the "Ninth of March," "Back of the Year," "Solstice" and "Noble Day of the Nation" among many others.
The concept of Nevruz is common among all Turkic peoples, Inayet noted, recalling that the Soviet Union banned Nevruz celebrations since they are a "source of national pride and identity of Turks."
"Nevruz, which is held on March 21 each year, is when the new year starts," he explained.
"It is very important in realizing regional peace. We have to carry this tradition, that we inherited from our ancestors, to the upcoming generations," Inayet stressed.
"We have not been able to celebrate Nevruz for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. From now on, we will continue celebrating it with more joy and passion," he said, adding that he hopes Nevruz will bring peace, prosperity and solidarity to Turkey and its region.
Nevruz, which also symbolizes brotherhood and peace, is celebrated mainly in Iran, Afghanistan and India but also in Turkic republics like Azerbaijan, across the Caucasus region and in Albania and North Macedonia.
A United Nations-recognized international cultural day, Nevruz marks the start of a new year and is considered a precursor to spring.
The origins of this ancient tradition are a matter of historic debate however, Nevruz, which means "new day" in Persian, is said to have its origins in Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Persian empires. According to this religion, March 21 is considered the day of the earth's creation and thus the first day of the new year.
While many believe the Turkic people of Central Asia started the celebration to mark the coming of spring, Nevruz is principally viewed as a celebration of independence according to Turkic tradition.
It marks the day of departure from Ergenekon, where Turks were trapped for years before a blacksmith melted the rock and Asena, a gray wolf, led them to freedom. Ever since, Nevruz has been accepted as the beginning of the new year by Turkic nations around the world and is still honored with vibrant celebrations, including festivals featuring blacksmiths beating iron.
Nevruz is intensely celebrated in the Middle Eastern, Anatolian and Iranian regions today, where its rituals are transferred from one generation to the next. These rituals include jumping over a fire, jumping over water and taking a bath – all are acts of purification, that draw attention to the common elements of all Nevruz celebrations. The ceremonies are not limited to people either, goods are fumigated and animals are passed through fires to be purified.
A special Nevruz table is set for the occasion with seven foods prepared for everyone to enjoy together. At this rich table, which is prepared to ensure abundance in the coming year, everyone tucks into the meal and wishes the year ahead will pass comfortably.
The "semeni" tradition is also still sustained. In this tradition, barley and wheat are germinated in bowls before Nevruz to ensure a fertile year in agriculture, and these bowls are then put on Nevruz tables.
People make sure to clean their houses and wear new clothes to welcome the new year and also repair anything that needs fixing. They paint their houses and are careful to make everything new in the new year.
It is also common to visit cemeteries during Nevruz to meet with one's ancestors. With these cemetery visits, people show respect to their ancestors and ask for their support.
Egg-tapping is also a favorite pastime in Nevruz celebrations. Eggs, which represent reproduction, are painted for abundance and tapped. Besides this, sports competitions are held, songs are sung, dances are performed and poets recite poems. As the history of Nevruz is dated back to the epic of Ergenekon, iron is forged on the day to celebrate overflowing.
Nevruz is officially registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List and the United Nations General Assembly has also declared March 21 as "International Nevruz Day."
Source: Daily Sabah