Novruz is a traditional Azerbaijani holiday, which celebrates the New Year, and the coming of spring. It is celebrated on 20-21st of March every year when the nature is waking up and new life is initiated. Usually preparation for Novruz begins a month prior to the festival. Each of forthcoming 4 weeks is devoted to one of the four elements and called accordingly in Azerbaijan. Each Tuesday people celebrate the day of one of the four elements - water, fire, earth and wind.
Novruz is a family holiday. In the evening before the holiday the whole family gathers around the holiday table laid with various dishes to make the New Year rich. The holiday goes on for several days and ends with festive public dancing and other entertainment of folk bands, contests of national sports. In rural areas crop holidays are marked.
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. Virtually, celebrations began four weeks before the actual day of festivity. These four weeks - or, exactly four Wednesdays - were each devoted to one of the four elements and called correspondingly, although names varied from location to location. They were: Su Charhshanba (Water Wednesday), Odlu Charhshanba (Flame Wednesday), Torpaq Charhshanba (Earth Wednesday), Akhir Charhshanba (Last Wednesday). According to folk beliefs, on Water Wednesday 'water renewed and dead-water came to stir'; the Flame Wednesday was believed the day of fire rebirth; on Earth Wednesday the earth revived. On the Last Wednesday the wind opened tree buds and spring arrived.
Another interesting version of the "four Wednesdays" existed in Shirvan area of Azerbaijan. They were devoted: the first Wednesday to air, the second one - to water, the third to the earth, and the fourth one - to trees (plants). It meant: on first Wednesday air warms, water on the second, the third week means the earth to wake, the fourth one stands for trees and plants to revivify. The most important of the Wednesdays was the Akhir Charhshanba (Last Wednesday before the vernal equinox) and most of important rites and ceremonies were delivered that day which concerned all the aspects of human life. Those rites were intended to provide welfare for an individual, his family and the community in general, to get rid of the old year's troubles and to avert a calamity. First of these essential traditions was the concoction of a ritual food named Samani (malt) which epitomized fertility of nature and the human race. This food had magical and cultic importance and was considered sacred ritual food. For instance, Samani was used to cure infertile women: a dish with sprung wheat for Samani was put on the head of a woman; another woman poured a little water into the dish cutting the squirt with scissors and pattered: "Oh, the Power which fecundated this (samani), fecundate this woman." The process of concoction of Samani was arranged as a religious ritual with only women admitted. The fire under a Samani kettle was put by "bashi butov gadin" (the happiest woman of the community) but the entire ceremony was leaded by "agbirchek" (the most respected woman). The place of the ceremony was closed for males, those adherent for different faith and "evil-eyed" women. In some regions Samani was prepared adding a pinch of salt to preserve it from the evil-eye. The entire ceremony of concoction was called "Samani toyu" (Samani feast) and was accompanied with ritual dancing and singing.
As to Samani rite's origin, it is considered to associate both with symbolizing the renewal of nature and the cult of plants. The latter is also can be well illustrated with the following rite called "Bailment of Trees" which was delivered on Akhir Charshanba: a male with an axe approached an unfertile tree as if intending to chop it down. Another person came up and asked about the reason of his intention and got the answer that the tree did not fruit. Then, his companion talked him not to chop the tree and bailed it out till next year. The same way all unfructiferous trees were "bailed out" and none of them was chopped down.
Other very interesting traditions were associated with water and fire. As to water, its natural feature to wash the dirt away inhered its function as a means of circumcision and cleanup. Among such rites was jumping over a stream to purify from the sins of the year past. Another rite consisted of family members besprinkling each other before going to bed on Last Wednesday.
Azerbaijan as a cradle of fire-worshipping had rich Novruz traditions associated with fire which also was believed a way to purify oneself. Making fires on streets, roofs and elevated points was wide accepted and jumping over a fire on Last Wednesday was considered compulsory for community members regardless to their age and sex. In Azerbaijan it was accepted to jump either once over seven fire piles or jump seven times over the same one. In ancient times the fire was put by an underaged boy using flint and this fire was believed to be pure. To pass to the actual day of Novruz, vernal equinox was proclaimed to have come with flares and gun shooting. Traditionally, all family members had to stay at home this day, paying no visits and accepting no guests. They said: "The one that is out on the holiday eve will spend seven years in wandering".
10 MAY Flower festival
The Azerbaijani holiday of Flower Day occurs in early May and has been recognized for more than half a century. Flower Day celebrates the arrival of spring and the spirit of hope and renewal that blooming flowers represent. In Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, the holiday is celebrated with the spectacular display of flowers from all over the world, some of which are made into large floral topiaries and arrangements. Music, dance and good food accompany the celebration.
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