8 of the Most Significant Holidays in Afghanistan

Steeped in culture and tradition, Afghanistan is famous for its celebrations to mark their national holidays, with people throughout the country coming together for the joyous festivities. In this article, we look at a selection of Afghan national holidays and how they are observed across the country.

Ramadan

Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic culture. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world fast throughout the daylight hours in order to feel closer to God. During this month of spiritual rejuvenation, Muslims try to avoid personal vices and negative acts and instead concentrate on practicing self-control, showing compassion for individuals who are less fortunate, and undertaking positive acts. Ramadan centers around religious devotion, encouraging Muslims to devote more time to performing special prayers and studying the Qur’an.

Eid al-Fitr

An Islamic festival, Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims attend communal prayers, listen to sermons, and give charity in the form of food. Eid al-Fitr is a public holiday throughout Afghanistan, when businesses and schools are closed, and the general population takes a day off as part of the celebration.

In 2020, Eid al-Fitr falls on May 24 in Afghanistan. People around the country will celebrate this “Festival of Fast-Breaking,” pledging money to people in need and enjoying feasts with friends and family.

Mawlid al-Nabi

Mawlid al-Nabi celebrates the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Afghans celebrate the festival in the third month of the Islamic calendar.

The history of Mawlid al-Nabi dates back to Islam’s early days, when followers would hold festivals, with large crowds gathering to hear songs and poetry composed in honor of the Prophet Muhammad.

Ashura

Ashura takes place in the first month of the Islamic calendar. It marks the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died during the Battle of Karbala.

In Shia Islam, Ashura is celebrated as a major holiday, while in Sunni Islam it is marked as a recommended day of fasting.

Labor Day

Held on May 1 every year in Afghanistan, Labor Day commemorates the achievements of the country’s labor movement.

Also known as May Day or International Worker’s Day, Labor Day is a public holiday across Afghanistan. It is celebrated in numerous other countries worldwide, including the United States. The holiday is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, where it is not fixed and instead falls on the first Monday of May.

Eid al-Qurban or Eid al-Adha

The Islamic festival Eid al-Qurban or Eid al-Adha, which is a public holiday throughout Afghanistan, commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son.

Schools and most businesses close for Eid al-Qurban, which is a day off for most Afghan nationals. Celebrations are traditionally marked by the slaughter of an animal—usually a cow, sheep, or goat—which Afghans cook and share among family members during an evening feast, as well as distributing food among the poor within their local community, earning the festival an international reputation as the “Feast of Sacrifice.”

Religious leaders encourage wealthy Muslims across Afghanistan to sacrifice an animal for the sake of God on this day, feeding people in need in a nationwide celebration of peace and solidarity.

Jeshyn-Afghan Day

Also known as Independence Day, Jeshyn-Afghan Day is a celebration of pride in Afghanistan’s glorious past. A national holiday throughout the country, this day commemorating freedom from colonial powers is celebrated each year on August 19 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi by Britain and Afghanistan in 1919, which marked the restoration of complete sovereignty to Afghanistan.

Today, Jeshyn-Afghan Day is celebrated across Afghanistan with displays of traditional costumes, street parties, and military parades.

Nowruz

Nowruz is a traditional Afghan springtime celebration that falls on the vernal equinox. The name “Nowruz” means “new day.” The phrase comes from the ancient Avestan language. The festival of Nowruz symbolizes new life, beginnings, and the rebirth of nature.

The festival of Nowruz dates back more than 3,000 years in Afghanistan, to the country’s Zoroastrian era. Approximately 300 million people celebrate Nowruz worldwide, including most of the population of Afghanistan.

In villages, towns, and cities across Afghanistan, Nowruz is marked by two weeks of celebrations, including displays of livestock and agricultural products, as well as ceremonies and exhibitions throughout the country.

In 2019, the Nawruz festival coincided with the 100-year anniversary of Afghanistan gaining independence from British colonial forces. Huge crowds gathered on the streets across the country for special festivities to celebrate the spring equinox and to commemorate a centenary of Afghan independence.

Women in colorful dresses and carrying plastic trumpets and national flags congregated in Mazar-e-Sharif, gathering outside the city’s famous Blue mosque. People from across Afghanistan and neighboring countries joined together to mark the celebration, with Pashto dancers in traditional dress filling the streets, dancing to flutes and drums in this special celebration of Afghan hope, pride, and independence.

10 Things You Might Not Know about Afghanistan

In this article, we look at 10 interesting facts about Afghanistan, its culture, and its people—from the country’s love of poetry to the national sport of buzkashi.

1. Afghanistan’s capital city is Kabul.

Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city, is located in the country’s eastern section. The only city in Afghanistan with a population of more than 1 million, Kabul is home to around 4.114 million people.

Nestled in a valley of the expansive Hindu Kush mountains, Kabul’s elevation of approximately 1,790 meters makes the city one of the world’s highest capitals. First mentioned around the era of the Achaemenid Empire, the city of Kabul is said to date back more than 3,500 years.

2. The national sport of Afghanistan is buzkashi.

Afghans have petitioned for buzkashi, known as the world’s wildest sport, to be recognized as an Olympic sport.

buzkashi

Buzkashi, or goat-grabbing, involves horseback riders grabbing at a goat carcass, galloping clear of their rivals, and dropping it within a chalked circle. The game has been played on the northern steppe for centuries, and was once the sport of rich rival warlords. Today, it is largely funded by mobile telecoms companies and private airlines.

3. Alexander the Great’s wife, Roxana, was born in Afghanistan.

She was described as one of the most beautiful women in the whole of Asia. Roxana’s Afghan name, Roshanak, means “little star” in Persian.

Although Alexander the Great’s marriage to Roxana was politically motivated, it is widely noted that she was his greatest weakness. Married in 327 BC, Alexander was so charmed by Roxana’s beauty and wisdom that the couple were inseparable, much to the annoyance of some of his soldiers.

Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, Roxana gave birth to Alexander IV. She was murdered in Macedonia in 320 BC by Alexander’s former ally.

4. Approximately 90 percent of the Afghan population has mobile coverage.

After the Karzai administration gained office in 2001, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology rapidly expanded the country’s wireless, internet, radio, and television industries.

tower

In 2006, the Afghan government signed an agreement with ZTE of China, striking a deal worth a reported $64.5 million. Under the agreement, ZTE would lay the country’s optical fiber cable, improving telephone, internet, radio, and television services throughout Afghanistan.

By 2014, approximately 90 percent of Afghans had access to communication services.  Today, Afghan Wireless keeps Afghanistan connected, providing unparalleled speed, freedom, and reliability.

5. Poetry is an integral part of Afghan culture.

Afghans have been telling tales in verse for more than a millennium. In the western city of Herat, locals celebrate “poetry night” every Thursday, with men, women, and children gathering together to share both modern and ancient verse, enjoying traditional Herati music, and indulging in pastries and sweet tea well into the evening.

6. Afghanistan is a landlocked South Asian nation.

The country is bordered by Iran to the west; India and China to the east; Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and Pakistan to the south. The terrain is dominated by rugged mountains, with flat plains in the north and southwest.

7. The country is twice the size of the UK, but has half its population.

Afghanistan’s current population is estimated at almost 39 million. The majority of Afghans live in rural locations within tribal and kinship groups. Approximately 10 percent of Afghans live in Kabul. The nation’s second largest city is Kandahar, with just under 400,000 residents.

8. Afghanistan is semi-arid, with hot summers and cold winters.

shepherd

Afghanistan has a dry continental climate, comprising all four seasons. In Afghanistan’s lowlands, temperatures can peak at 50⁰C in the height of summer, dropping to around 20⁰C in the wintertime. In mountain regions, winter temperatures often fall as low as -25⁰C, with some isolated areas dropping considerably lower than this.

9. Afghans celebrate the new year on March 21.

The Afghan new year is marked by celebrations lasting around 2 weeks, culminating in Nauruz, or Farmer’s Day, which is celebrated on March 21.

In the city of Mazar-i-Shar, the Red Flower Festival forms an integral part of the new year festivities, celebrating the blaze of red tulips growing on plains surrounding the city.

In Mazar, up to 200,000 Afghans gather for Jahenda Bala on the first day of the new year. High ranking officials gather for a religious ceremony at the Blue Mosque, the site of the tomb of the 4th Calif of Islam, Ali ibn Abi Talib.

10. Agriculture is big business in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is self-sufficient in terms of around 95 percent of its rye and wheat supply. The country’s agricultural sector more than meets the country’s needs for potatoes and rice. Agriculture accounts for around 23 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and 44 percent of the country’s labor force.

Afghanistan produces around 1.5 million tons of fresh fruit every year, and experts predict this sector could expand significantly in years to come. The country is gaining a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest grapes, cherries, apricots, melons, peaches, and figs.

A Look at the National Museum of Afghanistan and Its Many Treasures

Located in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the National Museum of Afghanistan was established in 1919. Originally housed in Bagh-i-Bala Palace, the museum housed weapons, miniatures, manuscripts, and works of art belonging to the Afghan royal families.

In this article, we look at the history of the museum, its collections, and the important artefacts housed there.

The original Afghan National Museum opened during the reign of King Amanullah Khan.

Originally known as a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” the collection was moved to its present location in 1931. In 1964, historian Nancy Dupree cowrote A Guide to the Kabul Museum.

During the 1990s, the site served as a military base. Curators sealed items in metal boxes and removed them for safekeeping, storing many artefacts in vaults throughout Kabul, while others were looted and found as far afield as Europe.

Between 2003 and 2006, the museum carried out extensive structural refurbishments, at a cost of around $350,000. Museum officials recovered precious objects, adding them to inventories and placing them back on display.

Since 2007, Interpol and UNESCO have helped recover more than 8,000 artefacts belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan. In July 2012, the British Museum returned 843 artefacts, including the priceless first-century Begram Ivories.

The Begram Ivories consist of more than a thousand figures and plaques.

Dating back to the first and second centuries CE, these ivory and bone carvings are widely regarded as some of the finest examples of Kushan art. Rediscovered in the 1930s in Bagram, Afghanistan, these carved panels were likely originally attached to wooden furniture.

The carvings attest to the cosmopolitan tastes of the local elite, the skills and sophistication of local craftsmen, and the prolific ancient trade in luxury goods.

The ancient city of Kapisi, located near modern Bagram, formed the capital of the Kushan Empire, an ancient civilization that spanned northwest India to northern Afghanistan. Dominating two passes of the Hindu Kush mountains, Kapisi was a strategically important city. Early Kushans are well known for their arts, producing sculptures, paintings, and friezes between the first and fourth centuries CE.

The Begram Ivories include intricate, decorative plaques that depict male and female courtiers, musicians, and dancers. They also feature mythological creatures, such as griffins, as well as elephants, lions, birds, flowers, and architectural backdrops. Color pigments recovered during analysis reveal they were originally painted red, black, blue, and indigo.

The Bactria Exhibition

The historic region of Bactria in Central Asia encompassed what is now Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It was home to a number of civilizations over the millennia, including the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the Greek Seleucid Empire, and the Greco-Bactrian Empire. Bactria was famous for its wealth, thousand cities, and the outstanding fertility of its lands.

Balkh, Bactria’s capital, formed the cultural and political center of the Aspa, Cyanides, and Pishdadian dynasties. Balkh was an important trade center, effectively serving as a crossroads between Western and Eastern cultures throughout the Achaemenid period and later.

Both Buddhism and Zoroastrianism were practiced in Bactria until the sacred religion of Islam began to flourish throughout the region and the majority of the population became Muslim.

Over the course of the last century, archaeological sites across the region have yielded precious artefacts, many of which are exhibited by the museum today, including examples from the Stone Age and Bronze Age as well as the Aryan, Achaemenid, Greco-Bactrian Scythian, and Kushan periods.

The museum features displays of Paleolithic and Mesolithic tools, as well as intricate examples of Bronze Age jewelry inlaid with lapis lazuli. There are also pieces dating back to Alexander the Great’s expedition across the region, with ivory pieces serving as important examples of Hellenistic (Greek) art.

The Ghazni Exhibition

The word Ghazni comes from the Persian word for jewel.

In 2013, Ghazni was named the Islamic Capital of Culture by the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Situated 150 kilometers southwest of Kabul, Ghazni formed the center of the province of Arakuzia in ancient times. Once the Islamic empire’s largest city, the city lies on the road between Kabul and Kandahar.

The National Museum of Afghanistan houses an extensive collection of marble stones recovered from Ghazni over the last decade, dating back to the 11th century CE.

UNESCO has supported the museum in its refurbishment program.

Working together with UNESCO, as well as a host of other cultural development organizations, the museum has rehabilitated its buildings and grounds, invested in its staff, and revamped displays of its priceless collections.

The museum has also implemented advocacy, project design, and funding and awareness strategies, making a great deal of progress over the last few years. As a result, the National Museum of Afghanistan has established a global reputation as one of the finest collections of Afghan and Central Asian art and archaeology