HEARTS RIPE FOR HARVEST: CENTRAL ASIANS WELCOME SPRING
Did you know that today, the first day of spring is Novruz? Novruz is a springtime holiday which is enthusiastically celebrated throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s a holdover from ancient times when these regions, along with most of the civilized world, were part of the Persian Empire. Recently, we’ve explored the history and culture of Persia and its many ties to the Bible.
Today Novruz is merely a popular observance with no ties to any particular religion and everyone, regardless of their religion, loves the holiday. However, its origins can be traced to pre-historic pagan rituals illustrated in cave paintings. Around 1000 B.C. the monotheistic Zoroastrian religion, with it’s focus on light order and truth, became the primary religion of the empire and many of its more desirable tenets like a focus on family life, hospitality, generosity and respect for nature, are still a part of Novruz.
Narmin Loves Novruz
Here’s what Narmin, the host of Sweet Conversations has to say about Novruz:
As an Azerbaijani, I love Novruz Bayram. It is one of my most favorite holidays as well as a favorite of the whole nation of Azerbaijan. Novruz has a deep tradition in Zoroastrianism, but we do not celebrate it because of that anymore, especially, we as the believers in Jesus Christ.
This holiday represents and symbolizes the coming of Spring and all that is connected with it. For Novruz we bake Azerbaijani traditional sweets such as pakhlava (Americans call it baklava), shekel bura, gogal. We make khoncha (tray of sweets and dried fruits with candles), we color the eggs (this tradition is very similar to the one at Easter here in States). We grow semeni – sprouted wheat to represent the grass and the spring itself. Youth and children build bonfires and jump over them, which is a lot of fun, but unfortunately is prohibited here is the States.
The mood is festive, people are celebrating at home as well as on the streets. There are a lot of street entertainment to see and to attend. On the day of the Novruz, people are dressed up and visit each other with sweets and presents.
One of my favorite memories as a child was to put a hat by the neighbors door, knock at the door or ring a bell and run away. Traditionally people would put the sweets in your hat from their table or khoncha, so the kids can enjoy them later. Neighborhood kids did it for us and we did to them and everyone loved it. During the Soviet Era this holiday was officially banned, but we still celebrated it and now it is a public holiday in Azerbaijan.
Umida Loves Sumalak
In Uzbekistan the celebrations are focused on a dish called Sumalak, a wheat bran pudding that is cooked in communal pots shared by all the families in a neighborhood. The dish looks similar to chocolate pudding, but tastes very different. Most Uzbeks love any opportunity to gather with friends and family to enjoy food. These communal cooking pots provide a marvelous excuse to do just that and the celebrations include dancing.
Several legends are put forth as the genesis of the Sumalak tradition, but all of them point to the importance of sharing, especially with those in need. There is also a tradition that if you eat from seven different pots during the celebration you will have a good year, so visiting others outside your immediate neighborhood is encouraged.
GHM Uses Traditions to Touch Hearts
One of the unique aspects of GHM’s programming is that we discuss traditions like Novruz on our episodes, to touch the cultural heart of people in the Middle East and Central Asia, then once we have earned their attention and trust, we introduce spiritual truth. We have found this to be a very effective way to reach the lost in these areas.
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