Nauryz Holiday Celebrates Season of Reconciliation and Hope
Nauryz is probably Kazakhstan’s most important holiday, the great celebration of the spring awakening and renewal of nature that marks the new year for Persian and Turkic peoples.
Nauryz has been celebrated by many cultures for more than 5,000 years. In Kazakhstan, it is celebrated on March 22, near the spring equinox.
“Nauryz signifies hope for a new life when nature wakes up from winter slumber. … From ancient times, the [eastern] New Year celebration was a very important event for every family. People began preparing for the festive day in advance, cleaning up farms and houses, wearing elegant traditional clothes and cooking delicious meals symbolising wealth and abundance in the coming year,” said Associate Professor of the Kazakh Transports and Communications University Aizhan Shynybekova in an interview with EdgeKz.
With its pagan origins, the holiday is not specifically religious, but cultural. The celebration of renewal predates the emergence of modern religions and states. Clothes and homes are cleaned physically and psychically, from evil and hatred. People are encouraged to forgive relatives and friends for slights or injuries. During Nauryz, elders tried to reconcile warring clans.
The word Nauryz means “new day” in the Persian language. In Kazakhstan it is also called Ulystyn uly kuni, (“the great day of the people”). It is celebrated as a national holiday of spring, work and unity by the many ethnic and religious groups that call Kazakhstan home.
According to Kazakh legend, on Nauryz night, the spirit of wise elder Kadyr Ata visits homes. People try to stay awake, and unmarried girls prepare a feast, leaving a window slightly open for the spirit to enter and putting a bowl of flour on the table. If the home is clean and the owners are upstanding, Kadyr Ata blesses the house.
“According to the old saying, when Nauryz enters the house, all diseases and failure leave the house and stay away from family members. On the day of the Nauryz celebration, everyone tries to stay in a good mood, expressing best wishes to relatives and friends. In the old days, people cooked a traditional meal of bull meat at noon on a green hill. Ancestors believed that the meat of a strong animal, like a bull, would give strength and endurance to people. All bowls in the house were filled with milk, spring water and ayran [a chilled yogurt beverage mixed with salt] and grain, representing the wish for a rich harvest, fertility and health,” said Shynybekova.
Nauryz is also a time of festivities. Youth play on the altybakan, a large hanging swing used nomadic people. There are folk songs and dances and traditional games. In Kazakhstan, wrestling and horse racing competitions are common, as are games of kokpar, similar to polo. There are games of love, too, like Kyz Kuu (“catch the maiden”), in which a man on horseback chases after a girl and tries to kiss her while she defends herself with a whip. Celebrations often ended with aitys, a poetry and improvisation competition.
Nowadays, citizens also hold fundraising campaigns, plant trees and clean parks and other public areas.
People across the region celebrate Nauryz in different ways, but they are united by food. All perform the ritual of preparing the special Nauryz Kozhe, which consists of seven components: water, meat, salt, oil, flour, cereals and milk. The number seven itself is a sacred character in many Oriental cultures. The seven components of Nauryz Kozhe reflect the seven elements of life and seven days of the week, implying eternity; the huge pot symbolises unity.
It was banned to celebrate Nauryz openly in Kazakhstan for most of the Soviet era, namely between 1926 and 1988, but it was revived after independence. In 2001, Nauryz was declared a national holiday and since 2009 March 21-23 are days off.
In 2009, Nauryz was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.