This year, the Nowruz festival holds even more significance and importance in the lives of Afghans since the United Nation’s General Assembly recognized March 20 as International Day of Nowruz.
Nowruz, banned under Taliban rule, begins on the day of the vernal equinox (the first day of spring) and marks the beginning of the new year. Every year, three days before Nowruz, tens of thousands of people travel to the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e Sharif to watch the elaborate ceremony.
Nowruz is celebrated for two weeks throughout Afghanistan. People wear new clothes, refurbish their house, paint the buildings and henna their hands. Young girls go with their mothers to holy shrines and pray to have a good future, a good life and a good husband and be fortunate while the boys have an eye on their parents to decide who is fair and suitable for him.
One of most famous of Nowruz traditions among Afghans is to forget and forgive mistakes of one another and start the New Year with new hopes and new goals. During the first three days of the year, families and relatives meet and visit each other’s houses. These are parts of Afghan traditions that date back centuries.
Jashni Dehqan, which literally means the festival of farmers, is also celebrated in the first day of year, in which the farmers walk in the cities as a sign of encouragement for the agricultural productions. For the last few years, President Hamid Karzai always participated in the festival of farmers and encouraged the farmers in agricultural productions and environmental green movement. This activity is being performed in Kabul and other major cities, in which the mayor and other high governmental personalities participate.
One of the most significant symbolic traditions of Nowruz in Afghanistan is Haft Mewa, or “Seven Fruits.” (Haft Sin, or seven “S,” is a similar tradition common in Iran.) The “seven fruits” table starts with seven dried fruits: raisins, senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), pistachios, hazelnuts, prunes (dry fruit of apricot), walnuts and either almond or another species of plum fruit. Haft Mewa is like a fruit salad, served in the fruits’ syrup.
Haft Mewa and Haft Sin’s philosophy is almost the same. The seven items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals called Amesha Sepanta (meaning “bounteous immortal” in the Avestan language) protecting them. The seven elements of life – namely fire, earth, water, air, plants, animals and human – are represented.
Some Afghans have never forgotten the bitter period of their life during the Taliban regime when they were banned or excluded from the traditions. Celebrating Nowruz always involves music and various entertainments that from the Taliban point of view, were forbidden. Another reason that the Taliban banned Nowruz was that women have a significant role in the Nowruz ceremony. In the time of Taliban, women were not allowed to participate in any ceremonies that music played and dancing was involved.
Traditionally, Afghan women celebrate Nowruz with Samanak: it is made of wheat germ and is a special Afghan female tradition. They cook it from late in the evening until daylight. During this cooking time, the women gather around and sing Nowruzi songs, accompanied with special drums and dancing. No men are allowed to take part in this ceremony.
According to BBC report, the director of the Nowruz festival in Mazar-e Sharif said that this year an estimated 120,000 people throughout the country are traveling to Mazar-e Sharif. The ceremony always taken place in the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue Mosque.
One part of the Afghan New Year is a speech by President Karzai, outlining the events of the past year and his programs for the new year. After the official speech, the president calls upon the special security guard to start the New Year celebration with three shots of a cannon. Following the three shots, a huge flag is raised from the ground. People watch the movement carefully – if it rises hard and slowly, a bad year is predicted but if the flag is risen gently, the new year is predicted a fortunate and happiness year.
When the day’s ceremony ended, the night’s ceremonies arrive, full of music and concerts. Every year, top singers are invited by the government to travel from Europe and America to northern Afghanistan and sing for the new year celebration. Not only Afghan singers are invited but groups of musicians and singers from Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are included to participate and demonstrate their culture alongside Afghan artists. After the official ceremony, people head to a huge field for a game of buzkashi, an ancient traditional sport where riders on horses compete over a goat or calf carcass.
This year, all Afghans are hoping to start a good year with changes and improvement in security issues. Some refer to the Marjah operation as a successful example of fighting against the Taliban insurgency and wish that the Taliban will be wiped out in the southern region. Afghans are excited that from now on, Nowruz will be recognized by the United Nations as it becomes part of the world’s many heritages.