Azeris prepare for Novruz countdown
In the run-up to the Azeri New Year festival, Novruz Bayram, over March 20-21, CBN spoke to one of the leading experts on Azeri traditional culture, the prominent Baku writer and historian Mrs. Aziza Jafarzade, who has the distinction of being the only person to be awarded both the title of "Mother of Azerbaijan" and also "People's Writer".
At the age of 80, Jafarzade still works as the chair of Baku State University's folklore faculty, and is still writing books even now, about artists and intellectuals from Azeri history from the 17th through to the 20th centuries.
We asked Mrs. Jafarzade about the historical roots of the festival and what customs are usually associated with it.
Where does the tradition of Novruz originate?
Novruz Bayram is associated in many people's visions either with some religious traditions or with the
The history of Novruz is different from that of other holidays. In 487 BC the scholars of the East came up with the idea of composing*the1 Calendar. And .they decided to choose a day when day and night were equal. Since Spring has always signified the beginning of new life, March 21 was naturally the first day in that calendar.
Why do the celebrations start so early for Novruz ?
Novruz is represented by four elements - Water, Fire, Earth and Wind, which are celebrated respectively on the four Tuesdays immediately preceding Novruz.
The, first Tuesday is called Water Tuesday, since God created man from water and earth, and water symbolizes the beginning of life. On' Water Tuesday young girls used to go to the spring fountain in the mountains for pure water and come back with 'water in their Sahangs (a traditional Azeri. jug for water made of metal with special carvings on it). They would splash water around their houses and on their relatives' faces. There should be a bowl with water in the Khoncha (a Novruz tray with nuts and sweets).
The second Tuesday is called Fire Tuesday, as the earth is warmed with the Sun, and all of Nature, too. Women used to draw a picture of the Sun in their palms with henna. One candle for each family member is lit in the Novruz Khoncha on Fire Tuesday. Men are supposed to make a fire and everybody must jump over it with the words "Let my burdens remain in the fire and let my. life be warmed by the fire." There is even a superstition that bad and ill-natured people would burn in the fire while jumping over it.  The third called 'Earth Tuesday. As the Earth is-warmed and wakes up and as trees are covered with buds, people's hearts are warmed with the forthcoming spring. Thus, a spiritual awakening can be observed in their hearts as well.
Semeni wheat grass is another symbol of Novruz and the wheat is planted in trays on this Earth Tuesday, Earth gives us the wheat and bread. Over the next week, semeni grass is supposed to grow and symbolizes bread, welfare and life.
Wind Tuesday is also called the Last Tuesday of the Old Year. As God gives a new breath to Nature, it wakes up totally - the flowers and all life blossoms. In the Khoncha on the Last Tuesday of the Year, there must be seven dishes starting with "S" in the Azeri language.
These special dishes are Semeni, Su (water), Sunbul (wheat kernels), Sud (milk), Sujug (a sweet dish prepared with wheat starch), _ Sarikok (yellow ginger), and Sebze (a dish prepared of greens). There must not be any bitter food on the Novruz table, and no salt Pilaff (the traditional Azeri rice dish) cannot contain any sour taste either.
On Wind Tuesday, young girls go 'ear fortune telling' to their neighbors' houses. This entails holding their ears to the door and listening in for what is going on in their neighbor's house. Therefore, ft is strictly prohibited to gossip or say bad words about people on all the Tuesdays of Novruz. Another tradition concerns spring cleaning, which should never be done on a Tuesday. Hence the local saying: "The day will laugh at the woman who cleans on a Tuesday."
There is a superstition, backed up some say -by a grain of scientific truth, that on the Last Tuesday of the Year, trees will bow to the Earth for a moment and fish will stand on their tails to- show respect to the Nature and New Year (this belief is linked with the idea of lunar cycles affecting Nature).
What traditional activities should we associate with Novruz itself?
When Novruz comes on March 20-21, men should visit during 3 days all elder relatives and family members, whereas over the next 10 days women are supposed to share all Novruz sweets and pilaff with their relatives and the poor. There are also traditions involving fortune telling by rings, and others that some folks remember from their grandparents, such as young women and girls throwing slippers overtheir heads. This is done outside your apartment, and the saying has it that if the slipper lands outside the door, that girl will marry in the coming year, while if it falls inside the apartment, she will stay unmarried through the year. ' Semeni grass is only supposed to be thrown away into a river or water on the 14th day after Novruz. It is not allowed to put it in the garbage, as the grass symbolizes bread and welfare. lives of some prominent people such as the Iranian Shah, Jemshid. However-it is not so - originally the roots of the word Novruz were interpreted as "nov" - as in new and "ruz"- as in day: in other words "A new day".
The holiday was often prohibited as a religious holiday in the Soviet era, and thus became associated - in some people's minds - with Zoroastrianism or other religious traditions.
All the holidays of Azeri Turks are associated with Nature: the longest and darkest day of the year (December 21) is called Yelda Night, while other nature-related holidays are Big and Small 'chille', which are respectively celebrated 40 days after Yelda and 20 days after that (February 20). These holidays are connected with the lambing season.
There is also Khizir Nebi on February 28, which is associated with Islamic prophets in Shemakha and the curing powers.of a spring fountain there. Although most of these holidays are no longer celebrated widely in Baku, they are still preserved in the countryside regions of Azerbaijan.
Novruz is also a holiday related with Nature. It is not related to religion in the same way as Ramadan and Moslem Festival of Sacrifice, Gurban, but is truly a celebration of the coming of spring.

Date                                Occasion                                  Activities
February 26 Tuesday       Water                                  Young girls bring spring water home.
                                                                                   splash on floor, wet faces
March 5 Tuesday             Fire                                    Women: draw sun on hands with henna,
                                                                                   light candles. Men: jump over fires.
March 12 Tuesday           Earth                                   Grow semeni wheat grass.
March 19 Tuesday           Wind                                   Last Seven sweet dishes beginning with
                                                                                   S prepared; girls listen at neighbors'
                                                                                   door, gossip, bad words forbidden.
                                                                                   Trees: bow; Fish: stand on tail.
                                                                                   Must be a fish on the table.
March 20/21               Novruz Bayram                        Visiting relatives, eating pilaff,
                                                                                   fortune telling.
Leyla Mehdiyeva