In Central Asia, the New Year is celebrated not in winter, but rather in spring when new life begins to show all over the land. Nauryz is the name of this holiday, and while it is officially on the spring equinox, March 21, it is celebrated throughout the month of March. This holiday, discouraged by the former Soviet Union due to its strong cultural ties, is now celebrated widely throughout Central Asia and beyond.
The Central Asian diaspora makes a point to mark this event each year, including right here in Los Angeles. The group Kazakhs United at USC organized a wonderful event in Griffith Park this month which included all the food and festivities of a traditional Nauryz. One of the important foods made primarily during Nauryz is kozhe, a stew made of seven symbolic ingredients such as barley, ayran, meat and spices. Another key food is pilau which is rice with meat, carrots, onions and spices cooked over an open fire. These should be consumed with tea prepared in a samovar, also over an open fire which gives it a lovely, smoky taste.
In addition to these foods which were present at the Griffith Park Nauryz festival, the celebration also included lovely traditional Kazakh outfits, singing traditional Kazakh songs, Kazakh dancing music from the dombra (the traditional two-stringed instrument of Kazakhstan) and a traditional game of tug-of-war. If the event had been held in Kazakhstan, another favorite game would have been a tall swing made of a long plank of wood on which a person stands on each end and the two swing together. The constraints of Griffith Park also did not allow a favorite Nauryz activity which is horse competitions and games. Despite this, the Nauryz event in Griffith Park was delightful. Guests travelled from long distances such as Bakersfield and San Francisco to be there for this special day. Nauryz is a time of hopefulness in which people forgive past offenses, enjoy the warm spring and look forward to a bright future in the coming year.