Written by Dr. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak
March 19, 2009, Washington, D.C. – Nowruz, literally meaning “a new day,” has through the ages lived up to its name in wondrous ways. It has provided the supreme occasion for renewal and rejuvenation, for displaying new resolve in settling old issues, and for making new beginnings. The secret power behind Nowruz’s inexhaustible appeal to the human mind resides in a simple truth: the human need to imagine a ritual that celebrates not this or that nation, people, or culture, but the core of our common humanity. Nowruz does so through our tendency to contemplate nature as it puts on its most magnificent dress at springtime and to think about the relationship between the human community and Mother Nature. Nature’s mysterious ability to renew itself every year thus becomes the manifestation of all our human yearnings.
The roots of Nowruz are scattered in myth and in history; they go all the way to the time when the settlement of the first peoples on the Iranian plateau signaled a new phase in human development. They pass through various historical events, from the formation of the first Persian Empire over 25 centuries ago to the later configurations of the Persian civilization before Christianity and Islam. Its function over the millennia has been to forge and foster an ever-newer sense of collective identity in an ever-changing world.
In the mind of Iranians, the word Nowruz conjures up colorful images which are sumptuous, elegant, and opulent as well as delightfully simple, refreshing, and cordial. Although colored with vestiges of Iran’s Mazdian and Zoroastrian past, Nowruz celebration is neither religious or national in nature, nor is it an ethnic celebration. Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Bahai, Armenian and Turkish Iranians and Central Asians celebrate the Nowruz with the same enthusiasm and sense of belonging. Perhaps it is this very universal potential of the message of Nowruz that speaks to its wealth of rites and customs as well as to its being identified as the unique fount of continuity of the Iranian culture.
In recent centuries, as the vast Iranian Empire gave way to the modern country of Iran, this ancient festival of spring has spread its branches over the neighboring countries, and increasingly all over the world. It still invites us to look beyond human time and history at nature itself as it blossoms in beautiful new colors in search of secrets of renewal and rejuvenation. Today, for the two million Iranians living abroad, as for the seventy million Iranians living in their homeland, Nowruz holds out the promise to transcend all political division to work toward new beginnings. To the world, it offers the potential of a human community in which a race of all races will emerge to create out of our common and inalienable humanity a new global culture beyond all nationhood and nationality. It aspires to a future humanity no less variegated than nature on the first day of spring.
Merry Nowruz, have a truly “new day,” a great new millennium, and a grand new human community-in-the-making.
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak is Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland . For nineteen years he was Professor of Persian language and literature and Iranian culture and civilization at the University of Washington . He has studied in Iran and the United States, receiving his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Rutgers University in 1979, and has taught English and comparative literature and translation studies, as well as classical and modern Persian literature at the University of Tehran, Rutgers University, Columbia University, and the University of Texas.