12 Days of the Nowruz Festival

“The New Year festival has Zoroastrian roots and is associated principally with Iran, but it is celebrated from Syria to India and across all of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Kurdistan, and Turkey. Its rituals vary widely but most are based on around a twelve-day succession of events. This can begin with great bonfires, fed all night to symbolize the victory of light over winter darkness, then the spring cleaning of the house, the bringing into the house of something green (like a palm tree or a fir tree—depending on latitude) around which a vigil or candles may be lit, then the making of a splendid feast full of special seasonal foods, including displays of dried fruits and nuts, an exchange of gifts between close family members, followed by an exchange of visits between neighbors and cousins. In some regions, there followed a traditional ‘period of misrule,’ where men would dress as women, and woman as men, children would lord it over adults and the poor would be served by the rich and the powerful would be publicly mocked by licensed fools. On the thirteenth day, the festival concludes with a family picnic, with music and dance and the quiet contemplation of the beauties of nature and some thought for future marriages and the exchange of such symbols of fertility as colored eggs.

Many of these Zoroastrian practices were mirrored in the festival of the winter solstice of the Roman-era cult of the unconquered sun. They would get absorbed wholesale into the Christian Easter and Christmas festivals, for Christ’s birthday was fused with the winter solstice, just as his death was tied to the spring festival.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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