The Nowruz New Year, known as the Persian New Year, is celebrated by millions of Iranians and non-Iranians all around the world by giving their homes a polish and wishing for good luck in the New Year. Archaeologists believe that Nowruz first emerged 7,000 years ago, and some others put the number at 15,000. Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar. It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day.
Nowruz is often referred to as the Iranian year or Persian year. Even though it has its roots and originated in Iran, but it is celebrated globally by many different ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Albania. Actually, Nowruz is celebrated across the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus and beyond.
Other customs and traditions
Haft-seen is an arrangement of seven symbolic items whose names start with the letter S pronounced as “Seen” the 15th letter in the Persian alphabet, and the word Haft, meaning seven, denoting the seven days of creations. Haft-seen is a collection of items that symbolize a different hope for the new year and show specific and important concept of the Persian culture. While some families add their own variations to the Haft-seen (more on those in a bit), there are seven things that are always included:
Sumac: Persian spice with a tangy lemony flavor which is symbol for patience and tolerance.
Serkeh: Vinegar is a symbol for surrendering and satisfaction.
Samanu: kind of traditional sweet pudding which symbolizes power, wealth and strength.
Seer: Garlic is a symbol for medicine and disinfect.
Sib: Apple is a symbol for health and beauty.
Senjed: dried Persian olive and it symbolizes wisdom.
Sabzeh: Sprout or grass that continues to grow over the next few days. It symbolizes rebirth and renewal, it is also a symbol for greenery and nature with the arrival of spring.
While these seven S items are the foundation of a haft-seen, the tradition has evolved to the point where there are several other things you can include. For example, a mirror symbolizing reflection, colored eggs for fertility, a live goldfish for new life. In addition, another important item is candle light that is comes from Zoroastrianism and it goes back to ancient Iran where the fire where actually symbolizes warmth, so it is bringing light and warmth to your household.
People start getting ready for Nowruz about three weeks before the actual vernal equinox. Almost always everyone goes into serious spring-cleaning mode, clear-out their homes of any unnecessary litter and lingering dirt that is settled in the whole one year so they can begin fresh. Actually, March begins with ‘spring cleaning’. This tradition known as ‘Khaneh Tekani,’ literary meaning ‘shaking the house,’ is common in almost every family. Carpets and rugs are washed, windows are wiped, silverware is polished, curtains are taken to the dry cleaners and old furniture is repaired or changed with a new one.
Every nook and cranny is scrubbed and polished until the whole house is sparkling clean. All family members are involved in this ritual, a ritual that symbolize a fresh start to the year. It is widely believed that with all the dust and grime, ill fortune is also washed away and the slate is wiped clean again.
Beginning of March, it is shopping time. During the weeks left to the New Calendar Year, people head for the markets and shopping centers to buy a collection of goods. And what’s on the list? New clothes, new shoes, fresh fruits, sweets and confectionaries, nuts, flowers and everything that goes on the Haft Seen Table. This special spread is a ‘must’ on the New Year and local markets are packed with enthusiastic shoppers who are looking for those special offers and last minute bargains.
Local flower markets are the busiest during the final days of the year. They’re filled with fresh cut flowers, beautiful potted plants and vendors beckoning you to buy. As you baby step your way through the crowd, you can’t help but enjoy all that enthusiasm and vigor in the air! The hyacinth is probably the most sought after flower here as it stands for prosperity and happiness in the Persian culture.
Nevertheless, the most important curtain-raiser to Nowruz is Chaharshanbe Soori which is a fire festival held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the calendar year. This festival is full of special customs and rituals, especially jumping over fire. As the sun sets, people light up fires and gather around to jump over them. As they do this, they sing “zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man” meaning my yellow is yours, your red is mine. In this ritual, they ask the fire to take their paleness and problems and in return give them energy and warmth.
As the last day of the year comes to an end, everyone rushes home to be with their families and loved ones. The New Year is all about celebrating those special moments and sharing the joy and gratitude with family members. While the clock is ticking away and the New Year is approaching, the family sits around the specially prepared Haft Seen Table.
The holidays culminate in a special festival called ‘Sizdah Bedar’. This national event falls on the 13th and the last day of the holidays and it is when everyone goes out to spend time in nature. This is all done to get rid of the so-called ‘curse’ of number 13. On this day, people set off for the countryside or the parks to set up tents and have picnics.
Children play football, badminton and Ping-Pong, fly kites and enjoy a game of Frisbee while the elders prepare lunch. Making kebabs is a tradition and men usually take the lead. They start preparing the charcoal grill while the ladies thread the meat onto the skewers.