On March 22, countries all across Middle and Central Asia will celebrate Nauryz, the New Year, or the festival of spring and abundance. Historically, this holiday, that, in accordance with some estimations, is more than 5,000 years old, had been celebrated since long before the people of this area were converted to Islam. Even to this day, the holiday remains secular.
For the people of Kazakhstan, this holiday is one of the most anticipated and joyful times of year and symbolises spring renewal, love, abundance and friendship. Traditionally, people used to wear holiday outfits and fill all vessels in the house with water, milk or grain to increase the odds of a good harvest and prosperity. Home cleaning and the planting of trees and flowers several days before the holiday is also an important ritual. It is believed that if Nauryz is celebrated in a clean house, it will protect the hosts from misfortunes and illnesses during the year.
The word “Nauryz” has Persian origins and literally translates as “a new day.” In Kazakhstan,this holiday is also called “the great day of thenation.”The name of the third month of the year in the Kazakh language has the same name as the holiday. It is also common to name babies born in March after the holiday. Nauryzbai or Nayryzbek are the male forms and Nauryz or Nauryzgul are for girls. Marriages are also very common during the holiday, as people believe that newlyweds who marry during the equinox will always love each other and will build a happy family.
The celebration usually includes fairs, traditional sports, horse racing, dancing and singing. The city administration also organises entertainment events and concerts by popular artists and musicians for citizens and tourists. Another traditional holiday event is aitys. Aitys is a traditional Kazakh form of oral tradition that is more or less a competitive performance in the form of an improvised poetic duel between two akyns (folk poets) playing string instruments, such as the dombra or qobyz. The one who better glorifies Nauryz through their music wins.
One of the main rituals during the day is to either host or be a guest. The feast is always celebrated with traditional dishes, but the main treat is the Nauryz kozhe. This dish is prepared with seven different types of grains, they symbolise the seven elements of life and are served with water, beef jerkey and airan, a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt. Those who eat this dish on Nauryz will be lucky and healthy and their family members will not experience animosity and be under protection during the year, according to old beliefs. Apart from that, pilaf and baursaks (Kazakh buns) are must have holiday foods.
Nauryz was not celebrated in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era between 1926 and 1988. In 2001, the holiday was recognised as a national holiday and since 2009, Kazakhstan citizens have been given three days off, March 21 – 23, to enjoy the holiday and experience all the unique festivities. Because of the overlapping of the three days off with the weekend, this year the celebration will last no less than five day, from March 21 through March 25.