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Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Novruz Fever is Sweeping the Nation

Novruz is the Persian New Year and celebrations started yesterday, the last Tuesday of the year. The big days are Sunday and Monday, the first day of spring.

Yesterday was the day of fires. People everywhere start bonfires in the streets, or perhaps, the courtyard of your apartment building, and, in an effort to ensure good luck in the coming year, jump over them seven times. The courtyard kids invited me to their fire for some jumping, but unfortunately, I had alternate plans. Sunday, apparently, is the main fire jumping day, so I may yet get my chance.

It's quite a sight to see bonfires burning in the streets throughout the city, unaccompanied by looting.

It may look like a pile of trash, but it became a bonfire.

For weeks, vendors have been selling little patches of grass called semeni that are designed to serve as a table centerpiece -- not unlike our Easter grass. Indeed, some vendors place toy chicks in the grass. People also make special sweets and serve them up on a platter, with bits of wheat and barley and other seeds mixed in. Samaya, our cleaning lady delivered one such platter and semeni to us.

Dogs like Novruz too

The fire jumping is just one of a number of distinctly Zoroastrian rituals related to fire that have survived not only communism but Islam as well. There are many areas on the Absheron peninsula where oil seeps out of the ground naturally and catches on fire (other places it just makes big black puddles). It's also common to see flames engraved on old Muslim-style gravestones (100-200 years or older) alongside the more traditional Islamic symbols. It's not surprising that Zarathrustra, the "prophet" of Zoroastrianism who spent most of his life on the Absheron peninsula, incorporated many fire images in the practice of the faith.

Azerbaijan: the Fire Land.

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