Not the song but the singing; not the object but its making

March 20th marked the first day of spring.

In our family, we have a tradition of celebrating the event by sitting around a special table setting and observing the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic! In the Northern Hemisphere, this is known as the Spring Equinox. We call it Norooz literally translating to “new day.” We inherited this tradition from our grandparents and we try to pass it along to our children in hopes of keeping it alive for the times to come.

Haft Seen - The traditional table setting for Norooz which includes seven symbolic items starting with the letter ‘S’ or ‘Seen’ in the Persian alphabet (Photo by Alireza Farrokhi).

Haft Seen – The traditional table setting for Norooz which includes seven symbolic items starting with the letter ‘S’ or ‘Seen’ in the Persian alphabet (Photo by Alireza Farrokhi).

Similarly, we inherited a traditional doll made by our late grandmother. It is valuable to our family as it reminds us of her and the stories she shared. We make sure to keep it safe until such a time that our children are old enough to care for it.

Both Norooz and the doll are important to me; they are what I would like to preserve for the next generations; they are “my heritage.”

While the doll is cherished only in a small circle of people close to me, my family is not alone in celebrating Norooz. The festivities, which usually last 13 days, are celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide (including three individuals in the Historic Resources Management Branch). You might see it spelled interchangeably as Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz or Norooz as it marks the New Year in many regions including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The doll is an artifact, a tangible object with associative values made by people. It can be physically handed over to the next generations. Norooz, on the other hand, is a cultural practice and an example of intangible heritage.

Doll making traditions have been part of almost every culture. Dolls are more than mere playthings, often representing costumes and other cultural practices. This Doll was made by our late grandmother, demonstrating the continuation of such traditions in our family (Photo by Alireza Farrokhi).

Doll making traditions have been part of almost every culture. Dolls are more than mere playthings, often representing costumes and other cultural practices. This Doll was made by our late grandmother, demonstrating the continuation of such traditions in our family (Photo by Alireza Farrokhi).

In 2003, recognizing that cultural heritage does not end at monuments and artifacts, and to emphasize the important role that traditions, social practices, rituals, knowledge and skills have in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Convention defines intangible cultural heritage as:

Practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills […] that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. […It] is transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity […] Intangible Cultural Heritage is traditional, contemporary and living at the same time; it is inclusive, representative and community-based.

Intangible cultural heritage is manifested in the following domains:

  • oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  • performing arts;
  • social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
  • traditional craftsmanship.

As of May 2014, the Convention has been ratified by 161 State Parties and 314 elements have been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Norooz promotes the values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families, as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and various communities. In 2009, Norooz was added to the Representative List.

Haft Seen setting

Haft Seen setting (photo taken by one of our colleagues in Calgary).

Looking out the window, I see snow is melting away; trees are waking up; the ground is breathing. I am witnessing a cosmic event. Norooz is my heritage, what is yours? Please share yours with us in the comments.

And by the way: Happy Spring, Happy Persian New Year!

Written by: Alireza Farrokhi, Head of Conservation and Construction Services, Historic Places Stewardship.

 

2 comments

  1. Alireza, I think the way you tied a personal story to an interesting but somewhat abstract concept like “intangible cultural heritage” was beautiful, and is exactly what we mean when we speak of “interpretation”. Happy Norooz!

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