Nawruz, the ancient and popular festival marking the start of the new year and the beginning of spring, will be observed this year with growing worries. Many people will be restricting the normal festivities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nawruz also comes after the week-long reduction in violence in February, the United States-Taleban agreement, and the possibility of intra-Afghan talks raising hopes for peace and fears of more conflict. In the midst of all of this, AAN would like to take the chance to convey, in words and in pictures, our best wishes to all on this New Year’s Day of the year 1399. In twelve months time, Afghanistan will enter a new century and we hope for a year of growing peace and happiness.Close-up of a tree in bloom in Herat, 28 February 2020. Photo: Fatema Sadat.
Coinciding with the spring equinox, Nawruz, (1) the first day in the solar Hejri year, (2) comes at a difficult time for Afghanistan. In addition to military insecurity and political instability, people are worried about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The Afghan government has cancelled all public Nawruz gatherings as part of its measures to try to prevent, or tackle, the coronavirus outbreak. Here at AAN, our thoughts go out to anyone who has been touched by the illness. Our thoughts also go out to anyone who has suffered in the conflict. We hope the violence will be greatly reduced, if not ended, soon. We hope that you, our dear readers and friends, and all your relatives, are and will remain well, safe and secure. We wish the same for readers everywhere in our interconnected and globalised world.
Despite all the anxiety, spring is inexorably approaching after a long, cold and hard winter. The soil is awakening, trees are in blossom, birds are singing and the fragrance of flowers is filling the mellow air. Although there will be no public events celebrating the first day of spring and a festive mood is by and large lacking, people will still be celebrating the occasion with friends or within their close-knit families. Some residents in Herat city in the west of Afghanistan spoke to AAN about what they had been observing and what they would be doing.
In general, the mood in the city is far less festive than in normal years, when people crowd the bazaars buying food, sweets and new clothes. “Business is bad this Nawruz,” commented 15-year-old Rohullah. He has been selling traditional Nawruz wares near a square in the city for the last three years. Standing by his stall (see a picture of him below), he said that only “some children, women and men are still coming to buy mahi (goldfish) and sabza (sprouted wheat).” (3). Sayed Rasul, who sells a variety of flowers and saplings in downtown Herat (see a photo of him in his greenhouse below), made a similar observation:
This Nawruz isn’t as bustling as it’s usually been… but some people, especially the youth, are still coming to buy flowers and vases for themselves or as gifts for their loved ones on Nawruz. Others have come to buy tree saplings for planting in or around their houses because of the coming spring.
As in the rest of Afghanistan, public festivities for Nawruz have been called off, but people in and around the city of Herat will probably still seek to celebrate the occasion, either at home or, especially those with a car of their own, outdoors. “I can’t imagine that no families will go picnicking in places like Pul-e Pashto on Nawruz. For sure, our family will go,” a local female student of Herat University told AAN. Pul-e Pashto or Pashto Bridge, which crosses the river Harirud between Injil and Guzara districts, is a popular picnic spot some 15 kilometres to the south of Herat city (see two photos of the area around the bridge below).
Regardless of the size of Nawruz celebrations this year, and despite all the worries, we would like to convey our best wishes to all. At the turn of the year, and twelve months ahead of the turn of the century, we would like to say:
د افغانستان د تحليلګرانو شبکه خپلو ټولو لوستونکو، ملګرو او همکارانو ته د نوي کال مبارکي وايي. هيله ده چې 1399 م کال زموږ ګرانو افغانانو ته د روغتيا، سولې او هوساينې کال شي!
شبکه تحلیلگران افغانستان سال نو را به تمامی خوانندگان، دوستان و همکاران خویش مبارکباد می گوید. به امید این که سال 1399 خورشیدی سالی مملو از سلامتی، صلح و صفا برای همه و برای کشور عزیزمان افغانستان باشد!
The Afghanistan Analysts Network wishes all its readers, friends and colleagues a Happy New Year. May the year 1399 be a healthy, peaceful and blessed year for everyone and for our dear country of Afghanistan!
AAN dispatches about Nawruz from earlier years include our look at the special New Year foods, at poetry, celebrating Nawruz and springtime, Nawruz anecdotes by AAN staff and the debate among religious conservatives over whether Muslims should celebrate this holiday.
(1) In 2010, the UN General Assembly declared Nawruz an international day because the occasion is “celebrated as the beginning of the new year by more than 300 million people all around the world and has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and other regions.”
(2) For details on chronology in Afghanistan, see the “Afghan calendars” section of this Encyclopaedia Iranica article.
(3) Sabza (and mahi) are part of a customary and symbolic practice called Haft Sin (Seven S’s) which is a table featuring seven items starting with the letter S (for details, see this previous AAN piece). Particularly in Herat, some families set up a Haft Sin display in their homes in the days running up to Nawruz.
This article was last updated on 20 Mar 2020