The holiday of Nowruz, also known in Kazakhstan as Nauryz, is the national New Year celebration for many countries in Central Asia. Meaning “New Day” in Farsi, the springtime holiday symbolises rebirth and the link between humans and nature.
Associated with many ancient myths, traditions and symbols, Nowruz is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia’s Bayan-Ölgii province, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and is widely celebrated in places like Türkiye, Pakistan, India and other places with Persian enclaves.
Nauryz begins at the spring equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and the day and the night are of equal length. This year, the equinox happened on 20 March, at 10:24 pm CET, or 3:24 am on 21 March in Kazakhstan, so today is the first day of festivities. The 3-day bank holiday, followed by two-week long celebrations involve seeing relatives, picnicking, travelling and eating traditional food.
This holiday unites all our people. We celebrate it as a single nation. Nauryz represents common values for the entire country. Therefore, Nauryz is a truly national holiday. This great day embodies qualities such as brotherhood, care for one’s neighbour, respect and patriotism.Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan
During this time cities and villages across the country turn into festival grounds. Central squares are filled with felt yurts and rich dastarkhan (tables) are laid out, symbolising prosperity and abundance in the new year. The streets are filled with music and greeting of “Nauriz kutty bolsyn!” (Happy Nauryz!) and “Ulis on bolsyn!” (May the year bring goodness!) echo among the crowds.
The main dish prepared for the celebrations is Nauryz Kozhe, a drink or soup traditionally made with 7 ingredients symbolizing the 7 virtues, or qualities, happiness, luck, wisdom, health, wealth, agility and heavenly protection. The ingredients may vary depending on family recipes or region, but the base is made with water, meat, traditionally horse, but beef or lamb can also be used, salt, milk or kefir and a type of grain, which can be rice, corn, wheat or barley. Other ingredients, like raisins, can be added, but the recipe must always have 7 ingredients.
Everyone visiting any city or village in Kazakhstan during Nauryz is offered the kohze, among other traditional dishes offered to guests, such as beshbarmak, kuyrdak, baursak and many types of meals made from milk, including youghurt, kurt, cream, butter and cheese.
Beautiful national costumes turn the squares into vivid and dazzling displays as people join in traditional dances and games. The games are usually played around Altybakan, a large hanging swing with colourful decorations. The contests kazaksha-kures (national wrestling), togyz kumalak (a logic game) and Kazakhstan’s famous horse games, kyz-kuu and baiga.
Competitions for the best traditional poets, called akins, take place, while theatrical performances and concerts from famous artists maintain a lively atmosphere, the celebrations ending with fireworks displays.