By Lee Kyung Mi and Kim Minji
Photos = Korea Foundation
The Korea Foundation (KF) from March 20 began hosting a five-week program on Nowruz, the most important holiday in Central Asia, to raise awareness of the cultures of five nations in the region.
“Central Asian Spring Festival – Nowruz in Seoul” introduces the cultures and arts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as part of the program KF Global Bridge I, which promotes understanding of countries unfamiliar to most Koreans that are considered key areas for diplomacy.
The Korea-Central Asia Cooperation Forum, an annual conference established in 2007 to bolster cooperation between Korea and the five countries, has promoted this event because knowledge of the five nations’ cultures remains lacking compared to that of their politics and economies.
The exhibition “Nowruz: Spring in Central Asia” at the KF Gallery in Seoul displays the costume, culinary and housing cultures of the five countries as well as their traditional intangible heritage, like the yurt (a traditional portable tent covered with skin or felt in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) and traditional Tajikistani costumes.
Events include a yurt experience, the screening of documentaries and films on Central Asian culture and history, and traditional music and dance performances. A street fair in Cheonggye Plaza in Seoul from April 27-28 will also a host of activities, foods and sights.
Countries using the Iranian calendar consider March 21 the first day of the new year and hold festivals and ceremonies for two weeks thereafter.
Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox and literally means “new day.” It also has different spellings such as Nauryz, Novruz or Navruz.
Similar to Seollal (Lunar New Year) of Korea, Nowruz has families getting together and giving New Year’s greetings to each other. People in towns also gather to cook and eat traditional wheat bran pudding that has multiple spelling variations depending on country (e.g., sumalak in Uzbekistan).
UNESCO in 2009 added Nowruz to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the United Nations a year later declared March 21 International Nowruz Day.