The timing of our trip to Uzbekistan was very specific because we were to be there during the celebration of Navruz which coincides with the vernal equinox... and during the time we were in the country the fruit trees popped into bloom and the grass greened up with just the smallest bit of rain. Winters are extremely cold here and summers extremely hot so this is the perfect time of year to visit.
Navruz is the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It usually occurs on 21 March or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. The moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. Although having Iranian and religious Zoroastrian origins, Navruz has been celebrated by people from diverse ethno-linguistic communities for thousands of years. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians. (wikipedia)
Our Uzbekistan Tour Manager, Abdu Samadov, has a blog post for MIR Corp on the holiday that covers it really nicely-
The people of Central Asia celebrate Navruz on the first day of spring, at the equinox on the 21st of March. The legendary Persian Shah, Jamshed, marked this day as the first day of the New Year. The word Navruz means “New Day” in the Farsi language. The day marks the awakening of nature, and people across Central Asia, the Middle East and Turkey come together to celebrate this UNESCO-listed festival. The great encyclopedic scholar of Central Asia, Al-Buruni, recounts that Navruz was considered the main holiday of Zoroastrianism. It is the day when sun reaches the sign of Aries and awakens nature. According to legend, when the day and night became equal, angels came down from the heavens, as did the souls of relatives.
Another legend says that Shah Jamshed discovered shakar (sugar) cane and ordered his people to extract sugar from it for the kingdom’s populace. This is where the tradition of presenting sweets comes from. In Uzbekistan, people still give halva, sumalak and other treats to each other at Navruz.
Navruz is the time when rituals and traditions come alive all across the region. In my hometown there are a number of rituals that I have been witnessing over the years, some of which are rarely practiced nowadays in the urban areas. An important ritual is the cleaning of the house. Family members work together to clean every detail of the house: carpets, kurpachas (traditional mats), clothes, kitchen-ware, gardens and courtyards. Everything has to be clean and neat for Navruz. My grandparents felt that it was wrong to enter the new phase of your life with an unclean house or disorderly belongings.
The night before Navruz, we fill all the pots, cauldrons, buckets and cups with water, to symbolize that the year ahead will be fertile and pure as water for the whole family. The sacredness and purity of water is a tradition that pre-dates Islam, and perhaps comes from Zoroastrianism, in which water, air, earth and fire are considered to be four holy elements.
People in Uzbekistan go far beyond cleaning their own houses, coming out for an unpaid public cleaning ritual called Hashar. Hashar happens before Navruz in Uzbekistan. Old and young, men and women, from all walks of life come out together with brooms, hoes and spades to clean the neighborhoods. They clean cemeteries and streams, prune trees, repair roads, redecorate community buildings and plant trees and flowers.
Another pre-festival ritual is Boychechak. Boys and girls carry flowering snowdrop (Boychechak) with their roots in mud and wrapped in paper. They go to the houses of neighbors and loudly sing the Boychechak song – congratulating the family on the New Year, wishing them health, prosperity and blessings. The members of the family brush the flower against their eye-brows and forehead and thank god for reaching yet another spring safe and sound.
On the day of Navruz, March 21, we have festivals and celebrations all around the country. Many villages, towns and cities have dancing, singing, wrestling, games and fun in the squares and fields. Kurash is a national wrestling game that is of huge interest for the locals, especially for men. This is the chance for young people to show off their skills. The manners they show can earn them respect and honor as a possible future groom to one of the local families. Buzkashi is another national sport. A group of strong men on horses fights for the body of a sheep or goat, with the aim of taking it through the group of competitors into the goal. It somehow encompasses the fierce maneuvers of polo, rugby, horse riding and wrestling in one game.
At home, women prepare an abundance of food and set up feasts. We have salads, fresh breads, plov, samsas, bijak (pastry based pockets with fresh greens) and sweets. All traditional meals are homemade, and they are accompanied by two types of special spring dish: sumalak and halisa.
Sumalak is a much-revered dish, prepared by groups of women who observe special rituals. The sumptuous brown dish is prepared from the wheat sprout’s juice and flour. The person hosting the sumalak party grows the sprouts for a week, sprinkling water onto the wheat seeds every morning with special blessings. Crowds of women gather to prepare the dish in one of the houses, as it takes many hours of work and is prepared in huge volumes. At night, the women make wishes as they stir the meal in turns. The women enjoy music and dancing all night, to stay awake and celebrate. This is an ideal time for the mothers to find brides for their sons. The meal is served in the morning to everyone in the neighborhood.
Halisa is a slow cooked meat porridge prepared overnight by the men in mahallas (community centers). The cooking is led by an oshpaz (a master), and it also has ritualistic value. The meal is distributed to everyone in the community. It brings togetherness to another level.
Since 1990 the traditional Navruz celebration has been restored as a national holiday for Uzbekistan. During the communist ruling of the country, this celebration was banned, as it was reminiscent of the old history and traditions. All countries in Central Asia mark this day as a national holiday celebrating the renewal of nature, youth and colorful tradition. It’s an ideal time of the year for anyone to visit the region, so they can experience the joyous mood that Navruz brings. (a big thanks to Abdu for sending me the link to this post!)
So we would be in Bukhara for the Navruz celebration days and we had a fabulous time!
here are some fun photos of our group and people we met-
you can see that everyone was in their "Easter finest" LOL-
in the photo above one group of friends and family prepared the dishes for the festival. We saw lot of dancing and general revelry- but in Bukhara we also visited the trading domes (local bazaars)
we also saw some fabulous monuments and buildings of which these are just a few photos-
and a few shots of food we had in Bukhara to round out the post -
Plov above and Non below-
two kinds of soup a borscht and chicken noodle that we had for lunch
yes we even had french fries at one dinner-
so I think I have pretty much thrown in some part of every experience we had in Bukhara - and soon we will be leaving for Samarkand (where the monuments are the big WOW of that city) so stay tuned!