The biggest holiday in Azerbaijan is Novruz. This spring event has its roots as a pre-Islam New Year celebration. It officially begins on the spring equinox but the celebration ramps up much earlier with large street bonfires every Tuesday for the month preceding Novruz. Each week represents a different element: earth, water, air, and fire. Much of the community comes out for the bonfires to socialize and listen to music. Tradition calls for fearless youth to jump across the bonfire regardless or how large it is. On one occasion I witnessed a boy run through a fire along a burning pole until he could leap the last 3 feet to the other side. I was coerced into making the leap over a much more manageable fire only to learn that once is not enough, three leaps is keeping with tradition. After four weeks of bonfires, and all the scrap wood has been burned, the Novruz holiday finally arrives with a full week of vacation for the entire country.
Novruz is also important for Azerbaijan’s small businesses. Many of the Kiva borrowers I visited were making business decisions based on their sales projections during the holiday. One client had pre-shorn three sheep with the hopes of selling them for butcher at a higher price during the holiday. All of the Kiva trading clients had stocked up on inventory for their shops. Some of the special items included small fireworks, nuts, and festive pots of wheat. This is a very enjoyable time to be in Azerbaijan.