Each year, the spring equinox – when day and night are equal length – marks a transition in earth’s relationship with the sun. This event, sacred to many cultures throughout history, today thrives as a new year celebration for hundreds of millions.
In Bombay, London, and throughout the South Asian diaspora, between 20th and 21st March you’ll find many folks of the Zoroastrian faith (amongst others) celebrating this new year, or Navroz as we like to call it.
They may be Irani Zoroastrians – descendents of immigrants and refugees from Iran in the previous century who opened the much-loved Bombay Irani cafes evoked by Dishoom. They may be Parsi Zoroastrians – descendents of those arriving from ancient Iran perhaps 1,000 years earlier. Or both. But food and fellowship figure strongly for all who celebrate worldwide – in homes, community halls, and (nowadays) restaurants.
Navroz is the ancient new year celebration marking the vernal equinox and spring’s arrival. Observed by diverse communities across borders, cultures, and religions for thousands of years, it’s a holiday of unity, tolerance, kinship, and reconciliation.
It goes by many names – including Nowruz, Nooruz, Newroz, and Nevruz (all meaning ‘New Day’ in Persian-related languages). Thought to originate in pre-Zoroastrian and Zoroastrian times, it’s a cultural festivity for some; a religious observance for others. But it’s always an family-friendly celebration of life, nature, fertility, growth, and renewal.
Whatever the name, it’s observed by entire nations as a major festival – including Iran, Afghanistan, and across Central Asia; and by specific communities in the Balkans, Black Sea Basin, Caucasus, the Middle East, and South Asia; and diaspora nations like the UK. Some observe Navroz as a religious celebration – including Zoroastrian, Ismaili, and Baha’i communities. Others – including nations and communities (for example, people of Kurdish background) – celebrate as a cultural holiday, regardless of religion or national origin.
Many cultures – including Iranian Zoroastrians – observe the actual date and time of spring equinox – which varies yearly. Others – including Parsi Zoroastrians – celebrate on the fixed day of 21st March. Each celebrating culture has unique customs and festivities – often with spring cleaning, new clothes, special food, and reaffirming friendship or family connections.
At some Zoroastrian celebrations, you may see displays symbolising growth and renewal, representing two main Zoroastrian cultures: a South Asian Parsi-style silver ‘ses’ tray – including a coconut, rice, and flowers; alongside an Iranian-style ‘haft sin’ or ‘haft shin’ table including eggs, sprouted wheat, and goldfish.
Navroz can be a time of both spiritual cleansing and thanksgiving feasting – whether one is amongst family, friends, or on one’s own.
Chai T is a communications specialist, writer, and creative artist who has worked with media and institutions to raise visibility of Zoroastrian diasporic communities.
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.