It’s Time for a Novruz Education
If you don’t know what Novruz is, you’re missing out on the knowledge of a tradition that stretches back a few thousand years, in dozens of countries throughout Asia. It’s a Zoroastrian celebration, originating in ancient Persia and spreading throughout Persian-influenced regions. What you need to know is that it goes on in Azerbaijan in a big way. And of course you need to go to Wikipedia and Azerbaijan A to Z. Around here, this is when you learn why Azerbaijan is called the Land of Fire.
Last night was the last Tuesday (Çərşənbə) of Novruz. That means that Miri, my host mom, and a random friend, Orxan, set about jumping over fires (for Novruz, you celebrate each of the four Tuesdays leading up to March 20/21. The Wikipedia article claims you are supposed to jump over fire for each Tuesday, but my family and friends here assure me that it’s only the last Tuesday for fire. People in other regions have also had varying experiences). Apparently, you’re supposed to jump over fire seven times, so we lined up seven piles of the straw-type stuff and lit ’em up. We jumped over each one and I did a few extra rounds for folks who weren’t here to enjoy the fun of jumping flames. That picture is of Miri mid-flamedodging. This was also a pretty significant deal here in Lənkəran because they haven’t celebrated Novruz to the fullest recently. Before last year, Novruz had fallen during Məhərrəmli, the Islamic calendar month that, for Shi’ites, mourns the death of Hussein. Because of Islam’s priority, and the stronger ties to Islam practiced here in the southern regions of Azerbaijan, they hadn’t had a full celebration for a full seven years. That lifted last year.
There were a bunch of other things that went on, too. Before all of this, my host mom had been cleaning and straightening up for weeks. It’s like the annual spring cleaning, but to a much more thorough degree. These Azerbaijani mothers are sworn enemies of every dustball and paintcrack and untidied rug in the country. In addition to that, she’d been preparing a great meal with the traditional southern dish, ləvəngi, and she also got our house the mandatory samani. One note about the ləvəngi, though, is that for this particular holiday, instead of the usual chicken, it’s made with fish, instead. She also made a chicken one, just in case I didn’t like the fish (I’ve informed them that I don’t particularly enjoy the way they cook fish here). With plov and other Azerbaijani standards on the table, the meal was delicious.
Finally, there were a bunch of other things going on that added a lot of spice to the night: First, while eating, there were some loud crashes at the door. My host mom went to look and found a cap resting on the top step. Apparently it’s something like our “Trick or Treat” tradition. She picked up the hat, put a pear in it, and sent it on it’s way. The second time a hat appeared, she dropped in a few 10-qəpik coins. And on it goes. Another feature was a roving band of minstrels. Not really minstrels, but they were a roving band. You could hear them throughout the village as they visited each house with their songs and whooping and instruments. Again, another positive and energetic expression of emotion that you don’t often come across in Azerbaijan. The last thing to do was to go to the river that goes across the southern part of Lənkəran and wash our faces and hands. We we’re supposed to do that this morning, with the rest of the city. Yet, Miri decided it would be better not to because it was raining. I was pretty disappointed, but I suppose I’ll just have to wait until next year.