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Festivals and holidays

When you wander in a residential area and hear the cry of surnai and karnai pipes, the twang of the dutara guitar and the rhythmic drumming of the doira tambourine, make haste to the celebration, for a toi is underway and stray foreigners are invariably welcome to join the fun. These are Uzbek family parties among the traditions preserved for many centuries. The-wedding feasts of a grand toi marosimi can last a week, with the separate receptions of fortillar toi and padar oshi held for the relatives of bride and groom. A beshik toi is held on the ninth day after a baby's birth, when the infant is strapped to a colourful wooden cradle and the mother rises from her bed. Sunnat toi mark the circumcision of boys aged between seven and ten years old. This important ritual purifies the boy and declares his entry into Islam and the community. The richer the father, the more members of his mahalla he can invite for singing, dancing and mountains of plov. At large gatherings, guests sit at great trestles, segregated for men and women (though foreign women may be considered honorary men). The Islamic backdrop rarely curbs the flow of alcohol and eating continues until the host signals by cleaning his hands. Smaller holiday meals, for a birthday, new house or just the reception of guests, are called dastarkhan (literally 'tablecloth'), when a family sits round a piece of cloth laden with Uzbek dishes, sweets, fruit and поп. Funerals normally take place the same day as death and, after the body has been washed and shrouded, a slow procession snakes its way through the streets to the cemetery, as every man (women do not attend) endeavours to carry the bier forward seven steps. At traditional funerals the young wear red and the old white. Professional mourners are employed, no meal is cooked in the house of the deceased for three days and mourning continues for a minimum of 40 days.

The most cherished public holiday, only rehabilitated in 1989, is Navruz ('new day'), the Central Asian new year that falls on March 21 in Uzbekistan. During this two-day festival of spring renewal, look for singing, dancing, the parading of seven special dishes beginning with's', plus sumalakh (a wheat bran pudding cooked during an overnight party), kurash wrestling by burly palvans, dorboz tightrope walkers, kopkari horse races and epic poetry recital by wandering bakshi minstrels. Streets and bazaars fill with crowds seeking national dishes and handicrafts, and the festival culminates with a ritual ploughing of the first furrow of the year by the most respected aksakal in the village. While Ramadan, the Muslim month of daytime fasting, and the ensuing feast of Ruza Hayit are not strictly observed, many Uzbeks perform the feast of sacrifice, Kurban Hayit or Bairam, and visit the graves of relatives, about a month after the end of Ramadan. Both Ruza and Kurban Hayit are now official holidays. Once the cotton harvest is in, collective farms may celebrate Pakhta Bairam. The dates of Ramadan depend on the cycle of the moon and estimated dates are as follows:

2013 — 9  July     to    8 August
2014 — 28 June   to    27 July

splitting ram fighting, frenzied baiga (a game of polo played with the decapitated corpse of a goat), Uzbek circuses featuring the high wire and the rather more decorous professions of bird fancying and backgammon.

Bukhara hosts a Silk and Spices Festival each May or June, with music, food and cultural shows, while UNESCO and the Fund Forum organize the Asrlar Sadosi (Echo of centuries) Festival of Traditional Culture in a rotating location each year. Music fans might want to catch Samarkand's Sharq Taronalari (Voices from the Orient) International Music Festival in August. Programme information and dates are notoriously hard to get in advance.

Other days when government and business close are:

January 1: New Year's Day
March 8: International Women's Day; men greet women with the first spring flowers
May 9:    Day of Memory & Honour (Victory Day); for the veterans and martyrs of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)
September 1: Independence Day; ex-Lenin Squares explode in celebration
October 1: Teachers' and Instructors' Day
December 8: Constitution Day; commemorating independent Uzbekistan's first constitution (1992)

Festivals and holidays