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Holiday celebrations have numerous similarities to Jewish customs

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Novruz, which means ‘new day’, is the most important holiday in Azerbaijan. This year it is observed from March 20-24. (Photo: azertag.az)

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Azerbaijanis around the world are celebrating Novruz, which is the Azerbaijani New Year.  On this day, Azerbaijanis celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring.  The holiday also celebrates values such as peace and global solidarity, as well as reconciliation and good neighborliness.  

Originally a Zoroastrian holiday, Novruz was born in the Urmiya region of Iranian Azerbaijan, with roots that date back to 505 BCE. The prophet Zoroaster was also born in Urmiya, so Azerbaijan is the homeland of the Zoroastrian faith. Today, Novruz is celebrated not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Iran, Afghanistan, India, Kurdistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and many other nations along the Ancient Silk Road.  

Novruz, which translates into English as “New Day,” has been cited in many legends and poems.  In the Zoroastrian faith, the holiday symbolizes how Asha, the eternal source of light and truth, defeated the forces of darkness. For Kurds, the holiday celebrates how Kawa, the humble blacksmith, liberated their people from a great tyrant, the Assyrian King Dehak. 

Under the reign of Dehak, there was no spring in Kurdistan, as his army terrorized the people.  He used to abduct children and feed them to an evil snake.  Since the snake god took over the kingdom, there was no sunshine, no trees and all the crops and flowers perished.  Yet when Kawa overthrew him, spring returned to all of Kurdistan and the people were free once again to enjoy the flowers and grow their crops.

Many Azerbaijanis have also written many poems about Novruz. The founder of the Azerbaijani Safavid state Ismail Khatai wrote the following poem about Novruz: “Winter left.  Spring came again.  Flowers grew.  Tulip gardens came. All the birds started to chirp. The fire of love is burning in the soul again.”

Just as Jews start cleaning their homes for Passover since Tu B’Shevat, the Festival of Trees, Azerbaijanis start also cleaning their homes for Novruz one month before the holiday actually begins. They also plant trees, paint eggs and prepare special clothes for the holiday. Each of the four Tuesdays before Novruz is devoted to a different element: “Water, Fire, Earth and Wind.” On the four Tuesdays leading up to Novruz, fires are lit. 

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On the last Tuesday before Novruz, one must jump over the fire seven times as an act of purification. The ashes of the fire are transplanted far away from the home to ensure that bad luck will stay away for the next year.  It is also traditional to jump over overflowing water to wash away the past year’s sins. On the day before Novruz, Azerbaijanis usually visit the graves of their loved ones and tend to them before having a traditional meal.

The next day, in celebration of Novruz, there is much feasting, relatives visit one another and children play with painted eggs. Singing, dancing, games and performances are enjoyed. At the meal itself, there is a special Novruz plate with seven varieties of food that begin with the letter S, just as there is a variety of items on a Seder plate. It is also traditional to light candles for Novruz, just as one lights holiday candles in Judaism.  

The growing of samani (green sprouting wheat) is the most sacred Novruz ceremony as the herald of spring. One of the essential parts of the holiday table is Khoncha (xonça) – a tray filled with sweets, nuts, candles, and other treats. (Photo: azertag.az)

In honor of the Azerbaijani-Israeli relationship, the Economic Peace Center together with the women’s only Israeli dance group of Rali Abman is hosting a “Women’s Novruz Party” at Bet Israel Congregation in Netanya, Israel at 19 Yehuda Ha-Nasi Street on March 27 at 8:30pm.  

At this celebration, this author, who is editor of the Economic Peace Center, will explain the story of Novruz; Ziva Amarov will wear traditional Azerbaijani dress and teach some Azerbaijani dances to the group. Traditional Azerbaijani Novruz food will be served with beer and wine, alongside other refreshments. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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