The Victorian foundations of Gibson Hall in the City of London were shaken to their core on 15 March during an event staged to celebrate the ancient festival of Novruz. The evening was jointly organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UK, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
More than 600 Azerbaijanis and representatives from across London’s international and diplomatic communities attended the event, making it one of the largest Novruz festivities to be held in the capital. The attendees enjoyed traditional food, music, and stunning dancing by the Şərq Çırağı Children’s Dance Group – direct from Baku. Children from the Caspian-Khazri school in London, demonstrating that the expatriate community is keeping the language and culture alive, also recited Azerbaijani poetry.
Although the origins of Novruz remain shrouded in mystery, predating the advent of Christianity and Islam, it is generally recognised as celebrating the New Year and the time of rebirth at the start of spring. In Azerbaijan, this festival for all the family is celebrated with a five-day Public Holiday, and symbolic acts include tree-planting, egg-painting, and the making of such pastries as pakhlava. Samani (wheat grass) normally forms the centerpiece of the festive table.
During the 75 years of Soviet rule, Novruz celebrations in Azerbaijan were unofficial and frequently suppressed. However, since the regaining of Azerbaijani independence in 1991, Novruz has become synonymous with the identity of the nation.
During the event, Ambassador Gurbanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK, explained: “This is a special day for all Azerbaijanis, and the main holiday for the country. In 2010, UNESCO recognised 21 March as the International Day of Novruz,and the preceding year it was inducted into the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This was the start of New Year in the ancient calendar of Azerbaijan. It represents a natural awakening, as spring knocks on our door, and is a great event for the family.”
Tale Heydarov, Chairman and Founder, TEAS, continued: “This is a traditional, ancient holiday in Azerbaijan, and it is very important to celebrate it together, by tasting Azerbaijani food and sharing in the symbols of Novruz. I welcome all who have not previously visited Azerbaijan to do so, and the hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku during May provides a good reason to travel to the country.”
The success of this vibrant evening proved that Novruz remains alive and relevant, not only in Azerbaijan, but on a worldwide level.