The word Nevruz is of Persian origin and is a combination of the words “nev” (new) and “ruz” (day), meaning new day. According to the old Persian calendar, it is the first day of the year and regarded as the start of spring, when the sun enters the house of Aries.
The sun gives more light and heat to the southern hemisphere until March 21, after which this applies to the northern hemisphere instead. That is why March 21 is a day to celebrate for people living in the northern hemisphere as the symbol of awakening and creation.
According to Persian mythology, God created the world, man and the sun on this day. Kiyumers, the legendary Persian ruler, declared this day to be a festival when he ascends the throne. Jemshid, the symbol of magnificence in Persia, also ascended the throne on this day. In addition, Jem, the seventh grandson of the Prophet Adam, came to Azerbaijan on March 21 and declared it to be a day of celebration.
Nevruz, which goes by various names such as Nevruz-i Sultan, Sultan Nevruz, Navrız and Mart dokuzu in Anatolia, is celebrated differently in different regions. It is also a ceremony for abundance in regions where people generally work in agriculture. It also has a faith-related significance in Alawite-Bektashi communities.
In Alawite-Bektashi communities, Nevruz is the birthday of Ali, and also the day of Ali and Fatma got married. In addition, it is the day the Prophet Mohammad designated Ali as his caliph after his return from the Farewell Hadj. On the morning of this day, people drink milk after the guide has read prayers. They read poems called Nevruziye, nefes (a poem read by dervishes) and Mevlit (a religious poem and prayer chanted either in memory of a dead person or to mark a special religious occasion) in memory of Ali. They visit graves with pastries that have been prepared earlier and eat these there.
Ottoman sultans paid special attention to Nevruz Day. Poems in the form of the “gazel” and “kasida”, called “Nevruziye”, were presented to them on that day. In these kasidas, the main theme was trees, which put forth leaves, opening flowers, the warming of the weather and similar. It was then related for Adam was created on Nevruz Day, Noah’s Ark reached land and Ali was born and became a caliph. It was said that all creatures prostrated themselves to God on Nevruz night, and that wishes came true. Again on Nevruz Day, the chief astrologer used to present the new calendar to the sultan and receive alms. This tip was called “nevruziye baksheesh”. Pastes called nevruziye, prepared with various spices by the chief physicians of the palace, were offered to the family of the sultan and other dignitaries. The pastes prepared for this day were presented in bowls with porcelain lids, and a note stating at which the hours of the day they should be consumed was also attached.
The origin of the Nevruziye paste has been traced back to the Persians by some researchers. In the time of Persians, physicians and pharmacists would gather together to prepare this special mixture. It was believed that those who ate it would be protected against all illnesses throughout the whole year. In time, this custom changed and Nevruziye became the name of a special sweet eaten on Nevruz days. Recently, as an extension of this custom, “mesir” pastes are distributed to people in Manisa on March 21.
Not only Nevruz Day, but also Nevruz Night has a heavenly significance for the people of Eastern Anatolia. It is believed that all creatures and things prostrate themselves before God on this night. That day, every individual’s fortune and future for the next year is set out. People prepare for the new year by wearing new and beautiful clothes. Meals are cooked in the home, and mutual visits take place.
Another custom seen in some regions of Anatolia in March is “Black Wednesday.” Various ceremonies are performed at this time, and meals prepared and eaten communally on this day, the first Wednesday in March. The young make wishes and listen at their neighbors’ doors.
Another of the traditions related to Nevruz is “March thread”. Pieces of cloth are tied to trees to protect them from the sun as the weather begins to warm up from March 21.
The custom called “Mart bozumu” (breaking March) in Giresun is another of the significant traditions related to Nevruz. At this time, water from a stream is fetched and sprinkled through the local houses. A guest who brings good luck is expected to visit and say “I am breaking your March”.
In the Central Anatolian region, Nevruz is called “Mart dokuzu” (nine of March). On March 21, people get up early, pay visits to graves and make wishes. The person who intends to make a wish collects forty stones from the graves and puts them into a sack. He then hangs the sack on the wall of his home, and meanwhile, makes a wish. One year later, he looks inside the sack. If the number of stones has risen to 41, he believes that his wish will come true. On the next nine of March, the stones are put back where they were taken from.
On Nevruz Day, people lay their tables with an assortment of foodstuffs, play games, hold festivities, eat painted eggs and prepare large fires.
Nevruz, which every society celebrates in forms peculiar to itself, still exists with traditional celebrations in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tatarstan, the Uygur region, Anatolia and the Balkans.