Navruz (also called Nowruz, and Nawruz), the spring "New Year" holiday, has been celebrated for at least 2,500 years, and perhaps for as long as 5,000 years. Originating in Persia and long associated with the ancient Zoroastrian, its name means "new day" in Farsi because for ancient Persians it marked the first day of the New Year. On this day, Persian kings would have worn a crown with images of the annual solar cycle on their heads, participated in the divine mass in the Temple of Fire, and distributed generous gifts to citizens. Today, Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21, when the sun enters the sign of Aries on the astrological calendar. In the northern hemisphere, this date frequently coincides with the spring equinox, the day on which the number of daylight hours equals the number of nighttime hours. Celebrations of spring are a natural outgrowth of the Earth's rhythms.
In Uzbekistan, Navruz announces the joyful awakening of nature after winter and the beginning of the agricultural cycle of cultivating, planting, and harvesting. Navruz traditions are similar throughout the region, and have varied little over the centuries, except to embrace Islam. Unlike the western New Year traditions, Navruz is celebrated during daytime hours within the family circle. March 21 is the main celebration, but for the next 13 days it is common practice to visit friends and relatives, buy and plant seedlings of fruit trees and have cheerful gatherings in the fresh spring air. Traditionally, it is also a time to "clean up" one's life.
People tidy up their homes, wash rugs and draperies, decorate with flowers, and buy new clothes that they will use for visiting. On the day of Navruz, all housekeeping - including the preparation of the meal, careful cleaning of the home and the arrangement of blossoming branches from apricot, peach, almond or pomegranate trees - must be completed before the rising of the morning star. Children enjoy the holiday because they often get presents of money, as well as blessings, from their elders. Uzbekistan has its own Navruz traditions. From ancient times, the holiday was celebrated in agricultural oases with festivals, bazaars, horseracing, and dog and cock fights. Still today Uzbeks serve a traditional meal of "Sumalyak" which tastes like molasses-flavored cream of wheat and is made from flour and sprouted wheat grains. Sumalyak is cooked slowly on a wood fire, sometimes with the addition of spices. Sprouted grain is a symbol of life, heat, abundance and health.