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spring color, irises

Happy Easter, spring, NowRuz to all!

It may be safely assumed, however, that the Now Ruz festival, essentially an agrarian celebration. owes its origin, at least in part, to the fertility cult, so common among the ancient Near and Middle Eastern nations. Some of the customs observed at Now Ruz are reminiscent of Babylonian Zagmuk. The growing of sabzeh (fresh green roots), which are later thrown into water, particularly brings to mind the Syrian cult of Adonis. But it is the Ancient and Zoroastrian Persia which provides the background for most of the customs and ceremonies of Now Ruz.

While the lunar calendar is used for Muslim festivals and holidays, Now Ruz is reckoned by a solar calendar. This was adopted in ancient times by the Zoroaterians, and is used today as the national calendar of Persia. However, one must bear in mind that the Zoroastrian year did not always begin on the 21st of March (1st of Farvardin). There are reasons to believe that at one time it began with the commencement of autumn. Again at a certain period, prior to or during Sassanian times (226-651 A.D.) the begining of year was fixed at the vernal equinox, the first of Farvardin (21st March), and it was immediately preceded by a religious festival of five days. During these five days the spirits of the departed (Fravahrs) were said to visit their family, and the houses were therefore cleaned and food and drink offered to the haunting spirits. Some of the Now Ruz customs may refer to this festival, which was partly absorbed into the Now Ruz ceremonies in Islamic times.

The Achaemenian kings (550-330 B.C.) celebrated the New Year in the Royal palaces with great pomp and ceremony. Sumptuous receptions were held, and the envoys of the various nations living in the vast Achaemenian empire presented their tributes and gifts. This homage by the envoys has been vividly depicted in the sculptures of the palaces built by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes.

In Sassanian times (226-652 A.D.) there was a vigorous revival of Persian nationalism. Now Ruz, along with Mehregan, another ancient festival, continued to be the main national festivals. During the six-day celebration of Now Ruz, a plenary audience given by the "King of Kings" was the climax of the festivities at the Court. Merriment and rejoicing were heightened by musicians composing and performing appropriate pieces and court poets and singers contributing their arts. The splendor of the Sassanian Court was, in fact, best exemplified by its lavish festivities at Now Ruz.

Although the advent of Islam in the seventh century A.D. naturally brought with it new festivals and holidays, Now Ruz was not overshadowed. On the contrary, together with Mehregan and some other old Iranian festivals, it was carried over to the Islamic period, and continued to be celebrated at the royal courts as in Sassanian times. The many graceful odes and sonnets concerning Now Ruz to be found in the Divans of the Persian poets bear witness to the ever-lively spirit and unbroken importance of the festival for the Persian nation.

Today, while many of the ancient festivals have faded away in most parts of the country, Now Ruz remains a national Persian festival, and its advent brings joy to the heart of the people. Although many of the old customs and ceremonies, as recorded in histories and travel books, have vanished with the lapse of time, yet what does remain makes Now Ruz the most fascinating of the Persian festivals, rich in folkloric details and symbolic reminiscences.

Professor E. Yarshater (Issued by the Iranian Embassy, Washington D.C. - March 1959)

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Taken on March 17, 2013