Such irony this year. The winter has taken a new grip of Malmoe, Scania and many parts of Sweden. It’s Wednesday March 20th 2013 and when I look out of my bedroom window I see the snow flakes falling and building up the white, wet and cold carpet on the ground, even though the wintry cover isn’t high. Still… yesterday evening we gathered to celebrate the coming of spring. At this time of year Norooz is celebrated here in Malmoe and on many places here on Earth. Between September 28th and October 2d 2009 at a UN conference in Abu Dhabi The Inter-Governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage the United Nations registred the Norooz celebration on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I was invited by my friends and former colleagues at the Iranian-Swedish Society Malmoe who arranges the Feast in Folkets Park/the People’s Park every year in co-operation with Malmoe Municipality. The bonfires were lit when I arrived and people in all ages and of various background had gathered to celebrate Eldfesten/The Fire Festival and Norooz. Information about different immigrant services were handed out, food and drink were sold and inside at Moriskan speeches were held and oriental pop music was performed by a live band on stage. More and more people arrived and enjoyed the great entertainment as well as the good music. So what is Norooz and the Fire Festival? What makes it an intangible cultural heritage?
Norooz/Newrooz means New Day in Persian and is the Persian-Afghan-Kurdic-Central Asian New Year Celebration. It is celebrated approximately around March 20th every year and is an ancient tradition which probably is 3000 – 3 700 years old, maybe even longer. When the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the one of Aries instead, and the Sun crosses the celestial equator and makes day and night equally long then it’s Norooz. In Ancient Persia the end of the year was celebrated with the Feast of All Souls. It was called Forodigan or Farvardigan where they believed that the Guardian Angels or Faragahar were evoked.
Sometime 1700 – 1500 BCE a man called Zaratushtra lived. In later Persian his name became Zardusht and in Greek Zoroaster. He was a priest and prophet who came from the Iranian Plateau and he simplified the ancient Iranian-Central Asian pantheon of different deities. His writings in the Old Avestan tongue were called “gathas”. The religion he shaped called Zoroastrianism was very dualistic, a combat between good and evil. The Zorastrian ideas has later also influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zaratushtra as a religious reformer exalted the deity of wisdom and divided the divine powers between Ahura Mazda (the Illuminating Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu/Ahriman (the Destructive Spirit). Zaratushtra is also said to have introduced the Norooz Celebrations and the idea to chase away the darker spirits and welcoming the good ones. Both fire and water were important elements in Zoroastrianism.
This is very clear in the Feast that introduces Norooz. It’s called Chahar Shanbe Suri/The Wednesday Feast and was held on Tuesday evening until Wednesday morning in the New Year celebrations. Bonfires were lit to chase away the dark times and evil Ahriman and welcoming light, fertility and the good Ahura Mazda. People jumped over the lit bonfires and said: “Zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man”, which means “My sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red colour is mine”. This tradition of celebrating New Year and Springtime has continued through millennia until today. During the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty, 548 – 330 B.C.E, Norooz and Chahar Shanbe Sori was very important and part of the state religion. Even more so under the Sassanids, 224 – 651 C.E. just before the Muslim invasion. Many people from Central Asia, Persians, Afghans, Kurds and Armenians have kept this tradition alive. A special kind of food called ajeel is served, which is a mix of nuts and berries. People sometimes disguise themselves and knock on doors in a trick or treat. Many traditions have merged over thousands of years, but also in recent decades. New traditions complete the old ones. Here in Sweden we celebrate spring with bonfires on April 30th with songs, social gatherings and speeches.
Even if the religious conotoations in these celebrations are mostly gone or forgotten in the celebrations today they had a profound religious meaning for the earlier generations. The Swedish celebration on April 30th is also most likely a reminiscence of the same or similar festivities since some of our ancestors and ideas came from the same Asian region long ago, 3000 – 4500 years ago. We mustn’t forget that Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic belong to the Scandinavian/North German branch of the Germanic language group of the larger Indo-European language family. English belongs to the Western Germanic branch. We’re connected in our DNA and some of our older traditions with the peoples in Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan etc. and our distant relatives in India. Even further back in time we all have African origins in our DNA. Over time our different traditions, ideas, clothes, customs, religions and political notions have evolved. But deep down we are very much the same and very much alike. Can we ever learn from that and move on to co-operate in future? Now let’s celebrate and smile. Happy New Year! Gott Nytt År! Sale Nu Mubarak!
Anders Moberg, March the 20th 2013
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