Akitu, is the Assyrian New Year Festival. In Assyrian it is also called Kha b’Neesan which translates into “the first day of Spring.”
The Akitu Festival began with the Sumerians. The word Akitu means “barley” in Akkadian. The Sumerian calendar had two festivals one in the Autumn beginning in the month of Tashritu in celebration of the “sowing of barley,” the other in Spring, beginning in the month of Nisannu celebrating the “cutting of barley.”
The Babylonians celebrated Akitu but only in Nisannu, a festival that lasted eleven days in honor of the supreme god Marduk and his crown prince Nabu.
The Assyrians also adopted the Akitu Festival when in 683 BC King Sennacherib built two Akitu Houses, one outside the walls of Assur, and the other outside Nineveh.
Modern day Assyrians continued to celebrate the festival but called it Kha b’Nisan, the first day of Nisan or Spring, however, it is usually observed on April 1st, which corresponds to the start of the Assyrian calendar. In recent years, the Akkadian name, Akitu has been re-adopted by Assyrians and is the most important national festival.
After the invasion of Babylon, the Persians adopted many Assyrian and Babylonian customs and practices. The celebration of Norooz (new day) on 21 March, has its roots in the Akitu Festival.
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