Definitions

amathi

Assyrian culture

' Assyrian culture had brought considerable achievement throughout a long history in their indigenous land.

Celebrations

Throughout the years, Assyrians celebrate many different kinds of traditions with in there communities, with the majority of them being tied to religion some way. Some include feasts (Syriac: hareh) for different patron saints, the Nineveh Rogation (Syriac: Bo'utho d-Ninwoye/Ba'uta d-Ninwaye), Ascension day (Syriac: Kaalu d-Sulaqa), and the most popular, the Assyrian New Year (Syriac: Ha b-Nison/Kha b-Nisan) Some of these traditions have been practiced by the Assyrians for well over 1,500 years.

Premta d-Simele; Martyr's Day

The Simele massacre (Assyrian: ܦܪܡܬܐ ܕܣܡܠܐ: Premta d-Simele) was the first of many massacre committed by the Iraqi government during the systematic targeting of Assyrian of Northern Iraq in August 1933. The killing spree that continued among 63 Assyrian villages in the Dohuk and Mosul districts, led to the deaths of an estimated 3,000 Assyrians.

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; Holy Halloween

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.

Kha B'Nisan; New Year

''See also: Akitu
The Assyrian new year lies on April 1. Before embracing Christianity, the Assyrians celebrated new year on what would be the Georgian Calendar's 21st of March according to the ancient Assyrian calendar. The Akitu event is called Ha b-Nison, and on the Assyrian calendar, the first month of the year is "Nison," and "Ha" in Assyrian means "1st of the". This date then and as it does now is the very beginning of Spring. Centuries before the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, other nations like Medes, Persians and Arabs celebrated the 21st of March as the New Year for all the ancient world.

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.

Som Baoutha; Nineveh Fast

The Nineveh Feast (Syriac: Baoutha d-Ninwaye) is a three-day celebration that is composed of prayers and fasting that Assyrians of Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Catholic Church (as well as The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India) consider sacred. The word Bo'utho/Ba'uta is an ancient Aramaic word that means pleading, and from this meaning we receive the title of this commemoration. This annual observance occurs exactly 3 weeks before the start of lent. This tradition has been practiced by the Assyrians since the 6th century.

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.

Marriage rituals

Assyrian rituals consist of many different types of elements that have shaped today's modern rituals for the past 3,000 years.

The Blanket Ritual

A week before the Marriage all the women of the neighbourhood and the women in the family go to house of the bride and make her a very big honeymoon blanket. Everybody had to make sure they sewed a bit of that blanket. So the needle would be passed from one woman to the other and this way all the women sewed a bit. The younger women would dance around it and the older women would sing and do the dabke. During the party food and sweets are served, and the party ends when the blanket was done. This ritual is mostly observed by Assyrians in Syria.

The Washing of the Groom

Before the wedding all the men in the neighbourhood and the men who are related to the groom go to his house and they cut his hair and shave his face. The groom's male relatives give a him a good scrubbing from head to toe, cleaning him of evilness.

Henna

Henna is mud-like material that is prepared on the day before the wedding. On night for the wedding, in the old days all the ladies would gather at the house of the bride (but nowadays it's mixed, also male relatives and family friends are invited.) A bowl is filled with henna. Henna is celebrated differently throughout the Assyrian community. In some areas, whoever holds the bowl with the henna will dance with it around the others. The groom and bride put in the bowl their little finger and their little finger will be wrapped and connected to each other by a ribbon. In other areas, everyone is given a turn to wrap his finger with henna, and after everyone, the person that is getting henna in his hand starts the chant of praise for the future couple, as everyone else follows him.

References

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