Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state, and it is no surprise that its people have kept their Eastern ways. Today, however, modern Western influences have made their way into the Azerbaijan culture. More and more locals are dressing up, singing, dancing and approaching life as would a modern European. Embracing the new and fashionable is inevitable as this country opens its doors to globalization and international tourism. Fortunately, however, time-honored culture and festivals in Azerbaijan are well preserved and observed for the rest of the world to see.
Azerbaijan is a picturesque ancient country that had long been closed and detached from the international community until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan has a lot to offer to the world including its rich culture and unique festivals. The country is located between Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and the Caspian Sea.
Clearly the most important and highly anticipated celebration is Novruz Bayram, which is the traditional celebration of the New Year. It is actually an ancient Iranian celebration that was observed in secret during the Soviet years. Today, it is an official national holiday that takes place on the 21st of March every year. Offices, schools and other establishments are closed for five days to celebrate this important family holiday.
Novruz means a new day, and to the people, this represents new hope as spring arrives yet again. Now that the New Year is openly and officially celebrated, the Azeri people can carry on the traditional practices that have long been observed for more the 5,000 years by the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians and Akkadians.
Although Novruz is just one day, the preparation takes a month or four weeks and the merrymaking lasts for a few more days afterwards. Each week prior to the New Year is dedicated to celebrate the four elements, namely water, fire, earth, and wind for every Tuesday of the month. On these days, families prepare themselves for the coming spring by cleaning their homes, planting trees, painting eggs, and making new clothes. They also prepare all sorts of sweets and pastries to be eaten on the Novruz.
Another unique practice performed on the second Tuesday, which is Fire Tuesday, involves children jumping over candles and small bonfires. The act is a form of fire-worship. On the last Tuesday, everyone jumps over fire as a form of purification by fire.
On the eve of Novruz, families visit and tend the graves of departed loved-ones. In the evening, families come together to share a traditional meal. They fill their dining table with a variety of local dishes. There should at least be seven dishes, which typically include the sumakh, samani, sabzi and sirke, around a copper or silver tray. Also at the center of the table are painted eggs, candles, and traditional sweet paste called Samanu.
At dawn the next day, people wake up very early to welcome the New Year. The succeeding days are filled with public dancing, singing, sports, and more merrymaking.
The Novruz is also known as a time to forgive people, visit relatives and friends, give gifts to children, and promote love, unity and respect for old traditions.
Tourists from all over the world come to experience Novruz. It is a major celebration that is equivalent to the West’s Christmas Day and New Year celebrations, with a touch of Thanksgiving and spring cleaning.
Finally, the country is not just about the Novruz. Other events in culture and festivities in Azerbaijan are the Western New Year, Women’s Day, Victory Day (May 9), Republic Day (May 28), Day of National Salvation (June 15), Day of Military Forces (June 26), State Sovereignty Day (October 18), National Rebirth Day (November 17), Day of Sacrifice or Gurban Bayram, and the Ramadan.