In Central Asia, people welcome spring with a variety of celebrations and festivals. Some of these traditions date back centuries while others honor special occasions or hard work. After a long and often isolating winter, these festivals and holidays are a reminder of warmer and brighter days to come. “When spring comes, we celebrate,” says Saidullah Baig, director of Central Asia Institute-Gilgit (CAIG).
Women’s Day in Tajikistan Part of Spring Traditions
In Tajikistan, March 8 is Women’s Day, a day where men celebrate the women in their lives by giving them gifts and flowers and taking them out to dinner or cooking for them. The holiday coincides with International Women’s Day and is based on an old spring holiday that honored an ancient cult of women.
“The best thing is that I’m not preparing anything,” says Mahbuba Qurbonalieva, director of CAI’s partner in Tajikistan, CAIT. “It’s the only day when men are taking care of their wives. They are giving gifts and buying gifts. It’s the only day the women don’t have to cook.”
The holiday is similar to Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Often men bring cakes and treats to the office for their female co-workers. The day is a celebration of all women, including daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.
Blessings For a Successful Growing Season
Many of the festivals are derived from ancient traditions and rituals meant to usher in a successful farming season. In the Gojal Valley of Hunza Province, Pakistan many people celebrate the Taym festival, a tradition of the Wakhi people that means, “the spreading of seeds.” It celebrates the start of plowing season and the return of water to rivers and streams from the melting snow in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The event starts early in the morning with local nobles gathering at a common home to give a prayer. Then villagers gather at a field for a symbolic planting of wheat followed by traditional, ritual dances, folk songs, and poetry.
Nowruz—The Celebration of a New Year
One of the most widely celebrated spring holidays is Nowruz, which translates to “new day.” “On the 21st of March, every year Nowruz is celebrated when spring comes,” explains Saidullah. “There are traditional foods, colorful eggs, and locally it is a happy occasion.”
The holiday originated in Iran and marks the beginning of the year in the Persian Calendar. It’s celebrated all over Asia including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Each country includes its own variations to celebrate this holiday.
In Afghanistan people play games and competitions including egg fighting, where one person dropped a hard boiled egg onto another person’s egg, which ever egg stays intact is the winner. They play the national horseback game of buzkhashi, which is similar to polo played with a goat or calf, and have kite-flying competitions.
One staple of Nauroz across all countries is the traditional meal of samanak, made with wheat germ and a combination of seven fruits. Preparations for the meal begin almost a week ahead of the festival.
“The ladies prepare the dish. They cook it outside in a big pot, maybe 10 to 20 women get together and cook it in a big pot,” explains Janagha Jaheed, director of CAI’s partner in Badakhshan, Afghanistan Marcopolo Social Services and Reconstruction Organization (MSSRO).
“Some of the women cook and others play music and sing traditional songs or dance,” he continues. The most famous song is an Afghan love story called “Mullah Mohammad Jan,” but they sing a variety of songs for everyone’s enjoyment.
Sweet foods such as cookies and cakes are spread out on a beautiful sufra, a decorated cloth, and the family and community gather to say prayers and celebrate the new year.
Spring Traditions Happen All Over the World
Spring is a time for celebration and renewal after long, snowy winters in Central Asia. All of these celebrations bring families and villages together to prepare of the summer growing season and share hopes and dreams for the next few months. These kinds of spring celebrations occur all over the world in many cultures. What kind of spring traditions do you celebrate?