(Please note that this article mainly explains how to celebrate Nouruz in Tajikistan. Traditions may differ in different countries).
Translated by Herbert Meck
Nouruz (from Persian: “new day”) is the name of the Persian New Year, which is celebrated from 21.03 (equinox) to 24.03. The days are public holidays. In Tajikistan (Central Asia) it is said that from this day the earth wakes up from its winter sleep. In Tajikistan, only Nouruz and Independence Day are celebrated in a big way.
History. Nouruz as a spring festival has been celebrated since the 1st century BC. In so many years, the traditions have naturally changed due to the new kings who have ruled Persia; also due to territorial changes and the islamisation of Persia. Nouruz is celebrated mainly by the Muslim population, but it has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, Nouruz is much older than Islam. There are even Muslims who do not celebrate Nouruz, as some traditions of Nouruz originate from other older religions, such as Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion that originated between the 1800s and 800s BC in what is now Iran. It is still practised by thousands of people, especially in the Indian subcontinent.
Since 2010, Nouruz has been internationally recognised as a holiday. Nouruz has been celebrated by more than 300 million people for more than 3000 years in the Balkan Peninsula, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Traditions. In Tajikistan, on Nouruz, people clean their homes, get rid of old clothes; put on fresh, new clothes, families gather and cook Sumanak – “new grass” (more on this in the next chapter): So-called “7 S and 7 Sh” is made on the table. That is, 7 dishes beginning with the letter ‘S’ and 7 dishes beginning with ‘Sh’ are prepared. Women put on a traditional dress called an ‘atlas’. I guess the word ‘atlas’ means silk. Several colours are used in the making to get a colourful diamond pattern typical of this dress. There are endless variations of the dress. If you have enough money, you have a new atlas sewn every year. Otherwise you just wear the old one. In some regions, people build bonfires and jump over them. The fire is said to have a cleansing effect and the jump is also a symbol of a successful leap into the new year; men fight each other in sporting competitions such as judo or horse racing.
Sumanak is usually cooked with the whole family and in large quantities. You only eat it once a year. Of course, by now you can also buy it on the market, but the process of cooking is sometimes more important than the product itself. Wheat is left to germinate for 3 days and then finely mashed, mixed with water and passed through the sieve. Vegetable oil and flour are added to the water and cooked in a large pot over a fire. You have to stir the sumanak constantly and the women keep taking turns. That is why it makes sense to cook a lot at once and together. It is cooked for about 24 hours and it is fun for everyone to stay up all night, especially the children. There is storytelling, dancing, playing, etc. There are certain songs that are sung while cooking and certain stories are told. They prepare some extra clean stones and especially the children are allowed to make a wish and throw the stones into the pot. This also prevents the sumanak from burning at the bottom of the pot. When it is cooked, you eat it cooled down. The taste is indescribable. A fine chocolate-bitter taste. The consistency resembles a medium-firm porridge. It is usually shared with everyone afterwards, with neighbours and relatives.
Personally, I never really celebrated the Nouruz. I always looked forward to the Sumanak and that was it. For me, New Year is more like New Year’s Eve. I think it’s because my mother loved Russian culture and we tended to celebrate New Year’s Eve big in the family instead of Nouruz. But this year or next, I would like to cook sumanak myself at home. So fingers crossed for me!