Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Equinox (March 20th) - Nowruz (Persia)

"O Majesty, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush the Angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness." 
---Omar Khayyam, Nowruznama 

Celebrated anywhere Persian people live, Nowruz is the Persian New Year and the most important holiday of Persian calendar. Nowruz is a 13-day celebration beginning with the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. This holiday is full of many traditions that honor the richness of Persian heritage and importance of family and friends. To observe specific aspects of spiritual values, a ceremonial table is set with items that each have a symbolic meaning for love, health, affluence, beauty, patience, and rebirth. Celebrants visit their friends, family, and neighbors, starting with the youngest family members visiting the oldest. Large parties are often thrown for members of the community to celebrate the new year together, and picnics are held on the 13th day of observance. Other traditions include wearing new clothes, cleaning the house, paying off debts, and giving gifts.

The night before the last Wednesday of the year is called "Chaharshanbe Suri" or "The Festival of Fire". On this evening, celebrants appreciate the victory of light (good) over darkness (evil) by lighting fires in the street and jumping over them. Celebrants eat and give special nuts to friends and family as thanks for the life, happiness, and health of the year before.

Although Nowruz is a celebration of the New Year, it is also a celebration of Persia's resilience after obstacles, overcoming of tyranny, and appreciation of family and friends. The Persian New Year is a time for its celebrants not only to reflect upon the fortune of the old year and anticipation of the new year, but also to be thankful for their loved ones and the blessings life has brought. 

Photograph from:


Thursday, March 8, 2012

14 Adar - Purim (Judaism)

Purim is a joyous holiday in the Jewish religion that honors a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination. 

Found in the book of Esther, the history of Purim begins like a fairy tale: The King of Persia chooses a beautiful, young woman to be his queen. He is King Ahasuerus (Ah-hah-shu-er-itz), and the lovely young woman is Esther, who unbeknownst to the King, is Jewish. Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who instructs Esther not to reveal her religious identity to the King, are the heroes of the Purim. The villain of the tale is Haman, a haughty, pompous advisor to the King. Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, which prompts Haman to hatch a plot to kill all of the Jewish people in Persia. Haman recieves permission from the King to control the Jewish people's fate and uses a lottery to pick by chance the day his massacre will begin. The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to this lottery for which the holiday is named. Mordecai convinces Esther that she must stand up to the King and speak to him on behalf of her people. Mordecai tells Esther that this is the task she was born to complete and that she must use all of her bravery to protect the Jewish people. In spite of her fear, Esther approaches the King without being summoned, a crime punishable by death. The King accepts Esther's invitation for two feasts with himself and Haman. At the second feast, Esther finally reveals her identity as a Jewish woman. She tells King Ahasuerus of Haman's plot and makes her request for the King to spare the Jewish people. King Ahasuerus is furious with Haman and orders him to be hanged for plotting this treacherous atrocity. The King makes Mordecai his advisor in place of Haman and allows Esther and Mordecai to write a decree that abolishes Haman's orders and gives Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies. 

This was a day for great celebration, and the Jewish people went on to defeat their enemies throughout the Persian Empire. Mordecai and Esther created the holiday of Purim to commemorate Esther's courage and the Jewish people's overcoming of oppression in Persia. It was so serendipitous that Esther had been chosen as queen and given the opportunity to save her people from a terrible fate. Esther's bravery in the face of death is admired by many. Her loyalty to her people and her strong conviction frame her as one of the most heroic women in the Jewish religion. 

Purim is celebrated by reading the book of Esther, also called the Megillah, meaning scroll. Whenever Haman's name is read, the listeners boo, hiss, stomp their feet, and shake noisemakers called graggers in order to literally "blot out the name of Haman". Purim is a holiday to drink, feast, and be cheerful. Carnival-like festivals are held for children who dress up as the characters from the story of Purim. Many Ashkenazi Jews make Hamantaschen, a triangular shaped cookie with fruit or chocolate filling that represents Haman's three-pointed hat. Purim is also a holiday about being thankful for the blessings you have and giving to those who are less fortunate. It is customary to give food and gifts not only to your friends, but also to the poor. 

Picture of Hamentaschen