August 7 officially became known as Martyrs Day or National Day of Mourning by the Assyrian community in memory for the Simele massacre, as it was declared so by the Assyrian Universal Alliance in 1970. In 2004, the Syrian government banned the Assyrian political organization and the Assyrian community of Syria from commemorating the event, and threatened arrests if any were to break the ban.
On August 7, Assyrians in the homeland and in the diaspora get together in local community clubs get together and share poems about the incident, revial new art work, etc.
Somikka is a religious event that begins on February 26 and ends on Easter Sunday. Somikka shares some common themes with the American festival of Halloween, but its meaning is very much different. The main purpose of Somikka is to motivate and discipline Assyrian children to fast during Lent. This is done by scaring children into the discipline of observing lent, when people would abstain from eating eggs, meat and any dairy or animal products for the seven weeks preceding Easter.
The evening before the fast began, or what is called "Somikka night" (Syriac: Leletd Somikka), small groups of young men would dress in scary Halloween like clothes, wearing masks and also carry accessories such as wooden swords and shields. These men then would knock on Assyrian homes and scare the children into fasting. The parents in return would give the "Somikka" money (food items in the old times) and tell their children that this was to bribe Somikka off them. They would also warn them that if they broke their fast during Lent, Somikka would come and punish them. To the permissive Western mind, this might seem a little abusive, or even cruel. But in the East discipline was the hallmark of raising children to grow up into God-fearing and upright adults.
Assyrian Villages in Urmia had another custom relating to Lent. The head of every family would stick seven colored feathers into a large onion, the feathers representing the seven weeks of fasting. He would then tie the feathered onion with a string and hang it from the ceiling of their living room, where it would spin every time there was a draft when the door was opened. This attracted attention and served to remind the children of the fast. Every Sunday night he would remove, ceremoniously, one feather to indicate that one week of fasting was over, until all the feathers were gone by Easter night, the last day of fasting, before celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection.
After the Assyrians converted to Christianity in the first century and the Gregorian calendar was established in the Christian world, the Assyrian also accepted the new calendar and they moved their new year from March 21 to April 1. Iranians and the people of Iraq (Kurds) today celebrate this day on March 21 (In Iran the New Years Day is called “Noruz” meaning “New Day”.)
Assyrians of today celebrate the 1st of April by holding parades and parties. They also gather in clubs and social institutions and listen to the poets who recite the story of creation. The men and women wear traditional clothes and dance in parks for hours.
In Assyria, during ancient times, this festival was the most important event on the year. People from all over the Empire came to either the political capital, Nineveh or the religious capital, Babylon and participated in the celebration. There were elaborate and magnificent processions to and from the great temple in Babylon called “Esagila”.
After the formation of the Turkish state, Khab Nissan along with the Kurdish Newrouz were banned from public to celebrate. Assyrians in Turkey were first allowed to publicly celebrate kha b-nissan in 2006, after organisers received permission from the government to stage the event, in light of democratic reforms adopted in support of Turkey's EU membership bid.
In the 6th century, a plague inflicted the Northern regions of modern day Iraq or what was called at the time, Nineveh. The plague was devastating the city and the villages surrounding it, and out of desperation the people ran to their bishop to find a solution. The bishop sought help through the scriptures and came upon the story of Jonah in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament story, God sent the prophet Jonah to warn the city of Nineveh of great destruction unless they repent for their sins or as it is directly quoted: "the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amathi, saying: Arise and go to Ninive, the great city, and preach in it: for the wickedness thereof is come up before me." Jonah did not wish for Nineveh to be saved since they (the people of Nineveh) were the enemies of Israel and preferred Nineveh to be destroyed. Instead of listening to God Jonah fled to Tarshish (modern day Spain), across the Mediterranean Sea. During his voyage a violent storm occurred. The other sailors feared the boat would be completely destroyed and kill everyone if they did not get rid of Jonah. So they decided to throw Jonah overboard. As soon as Jonah hit the water, a giant fish swallowed Jonah whole. Jonah found himself in the dark, in stomach of the fish. Jonah began to pray earnestly for God to save him. For three days and nights Jonah prayed and asked for forgiveness for his disobedience. On the third night the fish became violently ill and swam near to the seashore where it vomited Jonah onto the beach. Jonah thankful that he had been spared started on the journey to Nineveh. Reaching the walls of Nineveh, he began preaching to people as he walked through its streets, "In forty days God will destroy this city because of your great sins." The king of Assyria became disturbed at the message that Jonah preached. He called his people together and commanded them to wear sackcloth clothing and to let neither man nor animals eat as the people prayed and repented of their wicked ways. All of the people of the city cried and prayed and asked God to forgive them for their sins. The city then was not destroyed.
Upon looking at the story the bishop therefore ordered a 3-day fast to ask for God's forgiveness. At the end of the 3-day fast, the plague had miraculously stopped, therefore, on the 4th day the people rejoiced.
To this day, Assyrians of both faiths, Catholic and Orthodox, both in their original lands and in the diaspora, still observe the fast 3 days each year.