A New Start: Nawroz in Afghanistan and America

Creative commons photo by Flickr user Ehsan Khakbaz
Creative commons photo by Flickr user Ehsan Khakbaz

The new year in Afghanistan is called Nawroz (sometimes spelled Nowruz or Nawruz in English). The first day of the Afghan month Hamal, which falls on the 21st of March, was the first day of the new year in Afghanistan and some other countries.

This day is considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. People start getting ready for Nawroz a month before and celebrate the actual day following the old Afghan traditions.

One of the biggest traditions for Afghans on Nawroz is to wear green clothes and to cook green things. The idea is to give a new start to their lives, the same as the growth of the green plants in the spring, so they will be green, happy and fresh until the end of the year. The word green in the Dari language is “sabz.” Therefore, Afghans prepare seven dishes that start with the letter “S.”

One of the dishes that start with the green (sabz) letter is called Samanak. This is a special dish that takes at least two weeks to get ready to be cooked. The wheat used to make Samanak is kept to grow tall, and then it is cooked. Samanak is usually cooked on Nawroz or few days before, and women sometimes throw a party for it. While the mothers cook Samanak through the whole night, their daughters dance and sing songs.

Here’s an old video showing the Samanak ceremony:

In this video you can see some of the other dishes that are cooked for a Nawroz party. Samanak is the one looking like the tall, green grass and is not cooked yet. One of the other dishes on the table is Haft Mewa, which is the bowl full of dry fruits. Afghans buy various dry fruits such as pistachios, raisins, walnuts, dried apricots and almonds to make it, and it is eaten as a snack on Nawroz. Jelabi is the yellow round looking dish. They are sweet and very delicious.

Another tradition is that the night before Nawroz, Afghan girls make Henna tattoos on each others’ hands. They make the tattoos before going to bed and let it set until the morning so that it looks really red.

Some families in Afghanistan travel to Mazar-i Sharif, which is one of the provinces of Afghanistan, for the holiday. In Mazar-i Sharif, Nawroz is celebrated in a very special way because of the shrine of “Saint Ali,” who is the cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). People go to the shrine and hang out for many hours, and it is also a good place to pray for having a great year ahead.

Shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-i Sharif (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Michal Hvorecky)
Shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-i Sharif (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Michal Hvorecky)

When Nawroz comes, Afghans celebrate the New Year and look towards the upcoming future. They welcome the New Year with cooking different spring foods. They forget about the sad things that have happened in the previous year and start new friendships.

As a student in the U.S., it could be hard to continue celebrating Nawroz especially in a boarding school. While I have been living in the U.S. for almost three years, I have tried my best to celebrate Nawroz as my family does at home.

During the past two years, I have mostly talked about Nawroz in my presentations, which makes me happy. This year, I felt even happier to explain Nawroz for my host family practically. Though I didn’t make Samanak, I made Haft Mewa and some other delicious Afghan dishes. I also played Afghan music in order to give them a feeling of being in an Afghan house on Nawroz day. At the end of the day, my host family found this cultural exchange informative, and they learned a lot about Nawroz.

At last, celebration of Nawroz is all about starting a new year of your life and forgetting about the past. What I will forget about my last year is the moments that I felt lonely and depressed. I will make up for those moments, and I will try enjoying my senior year along with the people whom I love.


  1. Hello to all of you;
    Then I’d like to thank you Ms Farima for posting the nice things about Afghan culture, I’m proud of you.

    And Malik, I totally agree with you, but let me clarify this a bit. I do believe that there are just two Eid celebrations in the Muslim world, and you have to celebrate that as an happy opportunity, wear new cloths, visit friends, or invite them to your place for sharing happiness. And Islam says you can be happy any time you want as long as you stay inside the circle of Islam or something that doesn’t bother other brothers and sisters. Like Jumah is by it self an happy time for the week. So we celebrate this new Year as an Happy time not something that can be like Eid, If somebody does that then that is not allowed in Islam.

    I hope i haven’t said something too long.

  2. Dear Sister Farima

    This is a very good article. Thank you very much for this information. I learnt some new things from this article. I am from Herat, we celebrate Nowruz a little different. I realy enjoyed reading this.

    Thank you

  3. Nawroz is new life for afghan people because after during winter everything like death so nowruz gives drugs to all once again they getting oxygen and start a new life.
    so people also looking forward to nawruz for new hopes and life.

  4. Thanks dear for your comment! Firstly, I would like to let you know that no where in Holy Quran is written that celebration of New Year is prohibited.
    secondly, I didn’t say that It is an Islamic celebration, it is a cultural celebration that not only Iranians (Persians) but also other countries including Afghanistan celebrate this traditional holiday. Our ancestors have celebrated it from a long time ago and it is not just a celebration for Iranians.

  5. my dear,celebration of nowruz is prohibited in islam we muslim people have to Eid around the year. (Eid-dul-fettar and Eid-ul-uzha) nothing other we recognize in islam. the nowroz is rooted from ancient Iranian people.
    there no any prof for nowruz in islamic studies.

    1. Mr. Ab Malik: I respect your decision in chosing Islam as your Faith. But you does not represent any nation or a traditional culture. if you prefer to prctice islam, that is ok, but you can do it only for yourself. My tradition and culture has deeper root in my identidy than your islamic idiology. wither you like it or not, or wither any other islamic scholors allow it or it, nuwrooz has been calibrated in all farsi speaking countries around the world including iran , afghanistan, and tajikistan. it is our history, it is pat of who we are. so neither you, islam will be able to avoid it. the only think you guys can do is to stay aside and wetness our happiness during nowruz.

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