Наурыз! This week the council employees were once again out on the street, not just clearing the huge quantities of snow which has fallen recently but also to put up the decorations for the latest holiday, Nauryz, the Kazakh New Year. It is the celebration of the coming of spring, the spring equinox and is one of the biggest holidays of the year. It is celebrated on March 22 and it seems the Kazakhs named this month after the festival.
Once more the street signs and flags are put up wishing every one a “Happy Holiday”, flowers plaster walls of buildings and at night light up the streets. The river side is lined with large, bright tulips (the tulip originates in Kazakhstan) and the bridges are brightly decorated.
I always feel really sorry for the street workers. The start of the week saw the strongest blizzards I’ve seen here and the workers were out in their trucks, faces wrapped up with scarves, trying, at times without success, to hang flags high on poles along the bridge. The snow was whirling around street lamps and they were hanging on for dear life.
The holiday originally was a pagan festival and it has been celebrated for many years in many countries, from Iran to China. The celebration was not recognised under the Soviet regime but was re-established upon Kazakh independence and due to this has taken on an even more important role of encouraging the development of Kazakh identity and culture. For me it marked the start of our holidays and also a three-day national bank holiday. Most places remained open though.
At work we had two days of celebrations including Kazakh food, sports and a big concert. The special dish eaten at Nauryz is called Nauryz Kozhe. It is made from seven ingredients which symbolize the seven important attributes of man, including wisdom and knowledge. These mainly typically include: aira (Kefir), kurt (a very strong tasting cheese ball) meat, wheat, salt, rice, and raisins. As we served up the dish to the children, it was clear that very few of them were going to eat it. I sat down to try some. One spoon was enough. Sour milk with lumps did nothing for my palate. My colleague took a spoonful, replying how ‘it wasn’t so bad’. Another spoonful ‘it’s ok’ – he was unable to finish the final spoonful.
[flagallery gid=5 name="Nauryz"]
The Kazakh games took place in the afternoon and were as wildly differing as platting a girl’s hair the fastest, bone throwing and arm wrestling. I managed second place in this after being caught out by a secret left-hander who tricked me into using my weak left arm!
The funniest aspect of the day was when we heard national songs about the coming of spring, of the flowers springing forth from the ground. The wind whistled through the hall and outside there was zero visibility because of the storm! It is still not clear where the spring is or if it will ever arrive. There are no buds on the trees and there are certainly no flowers (apart from the plastic ones lining the streets). Estimates of when we will finally see the ground again vary from start of April to mid-May! It does not fill me with much hope.
On the Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be invited to a friends house to celebrate Nauryz. Her family are from Azerbaijan, where Nauryz is also celebrated. They had decorated the table with sweets, biscuits, painted eggs and grass. Dinner was plov (a rice and meat dish) and meat wrapped in vine leaves, with baklawa for dessert. The food was homemade and really tasty, and it was interesting to see how the holiday was celebrated in another central Asian country (or is it in Europe?).
In general , it is a day when family and friends get together and give each other presents and eat national dishes. I woke up on New Year’s Day to the sound of the dombra (the two-stringed, banjo like, Kazakh national instrument) filling my flat. Looking out over to the main square, I saw a stage with the dombra players, along with various stalls and yurts, had been erected over night and the days celebrations had began.
I turned on the radio to hear each lively song with something different to say about Nauryz and it reminded me of how the airwaves in the UK are full of Christmas songs for the whole of December and how I had barely heard any Nauryz songs up to now!
As I stepped outside, later on that morning, I realised I was not wearing a hat or gloves and it slowly became clear that I did not need them! It was 2° above zero, the sun was shining and the snow was melting. spring had, perhaps, arrived