How Nowruz is celebrated around the world


Newroz festivities in the Iranian Kurdish town of Palangan. PHOTO/Tehran Times.

Nowruz is an ancient festival marking the arrival of Spring that is celebrated in parts of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, the Balkans, and East Africa. It dates back at least 3,000 years, and it was adopted and spread by the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, which the holiday is today often linked with. The Zoroastrian calendar was based on the passage of seasons, and Nowruz – which means “New Day” in Persian – is followed by the festival of Tirgan in summer, Mehregan in fall, and Yalda in winter.

Nowruz is a celebration of rebirth and renewal, of the end of winter and the flowering of the Earth that warm weather portends.

In this article, we’ll be taking a tour of Nowruz around the world to see some of the many ways its marked and the meanings it has taken on. We start by discussing the history of Nowruz, before proceeding country by country: Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Kurdistan, the Balkans and Turkey, and finally, Tanzania.

Nowruz is often called the Persian New Year and is closely associated with Iran. But Nowruz is marked across many different countries, including in Afghanistan and Central and Southern Asia, among Kurds across the Middle East, and even in parts of the Balkans and on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar (more on that soon!).

Even though Nowruz has ancient roots, the holiday has changed significantly over the thousands of years that it has been celebrated. Different regions have preserved or developed different traditions, and new ones have been added to the old ones. The beautiful thing about Nowruz is that it has taken different shapes everywhere it has reached, but it always marks the original message of rebirth and renewal.

The spread of Nowruz can be traced back to three primary historical factors. Firstly, the ancient influence of Persian imperial culture across much of Central and Western Asia, where Persian and Turkic communities have celebrated it for many centuries.

Secondly, Nowruz is linked to the adoption of Persian culture and poetry by medieval Islamic empires, like the Ottomans and the Mughals, who spread the holiday to Turkey, the Balkans and South Asia. The Mughal court officially celebrated Nowruz in India, while the Bektashi Sufi order, which was influential in the Ottoman realm, spread the holiday into Southeastern Europe.

A mural shows Safavid Shah Tahmasp and Humayun celebrating together.

In the past, Nowruz was much more widespread then it is now; for example the Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties are believed to have celebrated in the Arab world. The third factor in Nowruz’s spread is that migrants from Iran took the holiday with them as they traveled, including to places like Zanzibar where it was eventually adopted by locals as well.

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