The History Behind the Nowruz Holiday


| LAST UPDATE 03/16/2022

By Elena White
Nowruz Festival, Iran Spring
Nima Karimi via Getty Images

March 20 is a significant day for over 300 million people on the planet who mark this day as the start of a new year. The Nowruz holiday is when the annual calendar refreshes for all those who go according to the vernal equinox - many of whom live in Iran. So how is this holiday celebrated, and what is the history behind it? Here's everything you need to know.

Nowruz, which means "new day," is the appropriate name given to the holiday marking the start of spring and a new year and dates back over 3,000 years. It started as a feast day in Zoroastrianism, a religion prominent in ancient Persia that believed that spring was a victory over darkness. Even after Zoroastrianism became less prominent and Islam took over Persia in the seventh century, this traditional holiday remained in place and spread throughout the Persian diaspora.

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The festive celebrations for Nowruz often begin a few weeks before March 20 and involve a range of activities and unique traditions. Many perform ritual dances, and others fill the vessels in their home with water, believing that it will remove any bad luck from their lives. The Wednesday night before Nowruz is named Charshanbe Suri and is celebrated by jumping over fire or banging on doors with spoons, all in an attempt to scare off bad luck. The second theme of the holiday is fertility and new life, so believers will eat a range of seeds and eggs in a nod to this.

Nowruz Festival, Spring, Iran
Mansoreh Motamedi via Getty Images

Following Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, its new government feared the festival would distract from the country's religion and therefore attempted to remove it from the calendar. Despite this, Nowruz remains an official holiday in Iran and is celebrated by millions worldwide. Many countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, and Uzbekistan, even include the festival in their state calendars. You can also find people in Turkey and India joining in on the celebrations. In 2009, UNESCO added the holiday to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and marked March 21 as International Nowruz Day. The organization praised the holiday for the way it "promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness."

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