Nowruz - A Zoroastrian Holiday
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Nowruz

rows of columns
Persepolis may have been built to celebrate Nowruz in

May 2016 - Some time after the beginning of Zoroastrianism, probably starting under the Persian Empire around 500 BC, Zoroastrian worshippers began to celebrate the first day of spring, which was the first day of their New Year, as an important holiday. It's probably related to an even older Babylonian New Years tradition, which is celebrated in the Enuma Elish, and probably goes back to before there was writing, before 3000 BC.

People knew when the first day of spring was because their astrologers kept track of the movements of the stars and the sun. When the sun leaves Pisces and enters the constellation of Aries, that's the New Year - Nowruz.

The word Nowruz means "New Light" for the longer days of spring. "Now" is related to our word "New" and "ruz" is related to Latin "lux" and (less closely) to our word "light".

stone carving of a man carefully carrying an egg with his fingers
A lord bringing an egg as a gift
to the Persian king (Persepolis)

People celebrated Nowruz by plowing the first furrows in their fields. They exchanged gifts - in Persian times the lords brought gifts to the Persian king. People cleaned out their houses and got new clothes. They put out a special tray with seven symbols of the season including a little lamp with a flame, sugar, flowers, rice, rose water, and betel nut. Sometimes they put out decorated eggs, a bowl with fish in it, or coins. Nowruz lasted for twelve days, and people visited their families and friends. Some people built bonfires and jumped over them for good luck. Children trick-or-treated from door to door, or left baskets outside houses to be filled with candies and nuts.

People ate special foods for Nowruz too: green spring herbs like parsley, spinach and cilantro, stuffed grape leaves or dolmades, fish, baklava and candied almonds, and dried fruits mixed with nuts.

(Compare Nowruz to the older Babylonian New Year, to the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover, the Chinese holiday of Qingming Jie, and the Christian holiday of Easter, which all happen at the same time of year, and to Chinese New Year, which is just a little earlier.)

Bibliography and further reading about Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrianism, by Paula Hartz (updated 2004). Easy reading.

The Usborne Book of World Religions, by Susan Meredith (1996). Easy reading.

An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion: Readings from the Avesta and Achaemenid Inscriptions, by William Malandra (1983). A nice clear explanation of ancient Zoroastrianism, by a specialist, for adults.

Or check out this website about Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism
More West Asian religion Hinduism
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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