This is a post I wrote a few months ago, but didn't post it. Here you go, more to come soon, I promise.
So this past week everyone in Azerbaijan got the week off for a holiday called Novruz. It is the celebration of spring here, and my favorite holiday in Azerbaijan.
Novruz is a mixture of Halloween and Easter with a ton of tradition, celebration and food. Each table is supposed to have certain things on it including candles, special types of cookies, grain, baklava and a big ol’ heap of grass. Kate and I did bought not a single one of these items, but somehow, most still ended up on our table through gifts. Our neighbors, host families and even store owners have given us things to put on our table. Since Kate and I don’t really have Azerbaijani guests over (I think people are afraid of what we may serve them), we have been eating the gifted sweets for about two weeks now. I am seriously thinking about how I am going to lose my “Novruz 15”.
So I have talked about guesting a lot, I actually think I did a blog post on it. But for those of you who can’t figure it out, guesting is going over somebody’s house and having them fill you to the brim with food. To be an American living in her community for over a year, Novruz is guesting on steroids. On the Tuesday before the holiday (which is actually also a holiday) I ate two dinners and have never been so stuffed in my entire life.
My Every Thanksgiving, I warn my darling twin sister about the dangers of eating too much too quickly. I usually council her on portion control and taking it slow, and she usually ends up in pain, still eating a slice of pie. This Novruz, I did not follow my own advice. I definitely overate and was in pain for most of the week. The traditional food at Novruz is plov (a delicious rice dish), kebob (chicken, sheep, cow, whatever you can get your hands on), dovga (a sour milk with greens dish that is mostly gross to Americans but I actually don’t mind) and Russian salad which is a bunch of vegetables covered in mayonnaise. After dinner, comes dessert with a delicious treat called shekerbure. This is a traditional Novruz cookie filled with nuts and sugar. Actually, most of the sweets are filled with nuts and sugar. Also eaten is baklava, which is probably my favorite part of Novruz. Kate and I were gifted a few plates of baklava and a week later were still eating the stuff.
During Novruz, there are specific customs that are celebrated. Here are a few of the traditions I celebrated with my community some I know the reason why they do it, some I do not:
• Papaq atmaq: In “Throwing the hat”, kids creep up to your door so as not to be noticed, knock and throw their hat at it and run away. They are not supposed to be seen by the person in the house or their hat will not be filled. The person in the house fills the hats with sweets, eggs and/or candies.
• Egg game: I have no idea why they do this at Novruz r what it means, but the egg game is when you take an egg and hold it up on its end, hit it against another egg’s end and whomever’s cracks, that person must give up their egg. I apparently am not so good at this game because I always lose.
• Listening at the door: During Novruz, you are supposed to listen at the door of a neighbor’s house and whatever you hear, that will be your fate for the next year. Last year I heard a mother screaming at her kid, which I guess meant that I would have to discipline kids a lot in the year (which I did). This year I heard the Television and didn’t understand a thing. That makes me nervous…
• Reading tea leaves: You are supposed to read the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup during Novruz.
• Hopping over fires: It is customary to hop over fires during this time so that your troubles fall into them and the fire burns them away. I was surprised I could even hop my butt over the fire because I was weighed down with food.
The festivities were wonderful this year. In each region, the city normally holds a huge celebration in the city center. Goranboy had a small but wonderful celebration where there were traditional costumes, horses, dancing and a huge bonfire. I also went to the bigger city of Mingechevir to see what they had to offer. They also had girls and boys dressed in traditional clothing but they had a ton of kids participating. They also had food vendors and a tightrope walker. People had to stand crowded around the circle of activity, but as foreigners, we received special treatment and actually got to walk amongst it all taking pictures and talking with the kids.
Overall, I will miss Novruz celebrations. It is by far my favorite holiday to spend here (even though we slaughtered a turkey for Thanksgiving this year). It is a time of traditions, coming together, and eating as much as humanly possible, and that is what every holiday should be about.