Assyrians Welcome Spring And The New Year With Akitu

Every culture marks the beginning of the year with some sort of celebration, festivity or tradition. The new year also takes place at different times depending on what culture you’re a part of. For most Americans, they celebrate the new year on January 1 with fireworks, parties and family. Other groups sync the beginning of the year with the equinox and partake in elaborate cultural displays including traditional food, dress and music.

I am Assyrian, and I want to share a piece of my beautiful culture with you.

The Assyrian new year, known as Akitu or Kha b-Nisan, is a week-long celebration beginning with the vernal equinox on March 21 and culminating on April 1. According to ancient tradition, the Assyrian people celebrated the arrival of spring during the first days of a month called Nisan. Thus, the festival came to be known as Kha b-Nisan, which translates to “the first of Nisan” (Akitu is the old, Akkadian name that was revived in the 1950s).

Assyrians have been living in a diaspora since the downfall of the empire, but this has only made us stronger as a people and a nation. Akitu is celebrated worldwide, including prominent observances in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The festival includes parades, dancing, food, poetry and endless parties. Chicago (where I’m from) hosts an annual parade down King Sargon Blvd where many people, organizations, businesses and church groups create floats with varying cultural and religious displays.

Some of the famous dishes and fan-favorites include dolma, kabob/koobideh and baklava.

Many people like to honor their roots by dressing up in traditional custom clothing and participating in public dancing in parks and streets.

One of my favorite parts of the festival, however, has to be the poetry. Traditional and contemporary poets within the Assyrian community recite beautiful words around themes of spring, love, unity, community and cultural pride.

All in all, Akitu is a time for family, friends, parties and sharing in the cultural traditions that we have kept alive for the last 6,769 years.