USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘persian new year’
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz – Jumping over Fire

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tradition that is done before Persian New Year (Nowruz). This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: For Persian New Year, what you do like the Wednesday before, is you jump over fire. The point is to basically like ward off the bad vibes of the past, and like my parents told me that if I ever don’t jump over the fire then, like you don’t actually go into the New Year with bad vibes, but like the bad vibes are going to be more prominent. So, I will always try to go to whoever’s house to jump over fire, because you know, bad vibes.

K: So do you normally go to your family’s house?

S: Yeah or like, this year I jumped over a candle with my friend, still works

K: Do all Persians partake in this tradition, or is it a specific to Persian-Americans

S: Yeah, all Persians do it, or like 70… 80… like 90%

K: Do you have to do it in a group or can you do it by yourself?

S: No, you can do it by yourself, but it’s just more fun to do it with your family. So that you can jump with someone else, so you are both leaving bad vibes in the past, that is like what typically happens.

K: What does it mean to you, to partake in the tradition?

 

S: Um, I don’t really believe that you actually leave bad vibes back in that sense, like you don’t have to jump over fire to get rid of the bad vibes of the past year. But I think it is a fun way of keeping a tradition, a cultural tradition alive. So, to me it’s just a fun cultural activity, and even though a lot of Persians don’t live in Iran, they still do it.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she continued on to talk about this tradition. The conversation was recorded and transcribed

Thoughts:

I think it is a wonderful tradition. As the informant describes you don’t actually have to believe in its ability to ward off, as she says, “bad vibes” in order to participate. Any Persian can participate anywhere in the world, but still feel connected to one another.

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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

In the following my informant recounts how he celebrates Persian New Year:

This other Persian tradition that I’m gonna describe has to do with Persian New Year, or, Norusnew day” as it’s said in Farsi. Persian New Year occurs on the first day of Spring, and there’s a lot of symbolism in that: Spring is the beginning of life, the flowers come to bloom, the air becomes filled with perfume, there is, um, an incoming of life into the world, and that’s why it’s considered the beginning of the year. Spiritually also in Islamic, Iranian tradition, religion is considered the coming of life and springtime, but that’s only somewhat related. Anyways, during this period of Norus, this is very similar to Christmas in a way where, there’s a gift giving and families come together, um, there’s many… it’s usually a very outdoorsy thing where you do pick-nicks and if it’s like Los Angeles where’s there’s a large Persian population, there will be crowds of thousands that come to a park and come and commemorate Norus, or new year together. The Christmas tree for Persians is the Haft sin, which means seven “s”. Sin is the letter S in farsi, and this haft sin is, usually you lay out a rug, or on a table you set out 7 objects that begin with  the letter S in Farsi, and each have a symbolism having to do with the new year. So you would put the seib, the apple which is, you know, health, and the sedecay which is vinegar  which is a symbol of fertility, secay which is, um, a coin and is a symbol of wealth, um, many similar things, so seven things that begin with the letter s. And I  don’t know them in farsi, but there are goldfish on the table, there are, uh, there’s like a sweet sugary paste, there’s garlic I believe, there’ a bed of wheat grass that the families grow themselves, there’s painted eggs, all these things have a symbolic nature to them and they’re presented on a table, and It becomes a very, there’s uh, the hyacinth flower, they all have a symbolism, and it becomes the center of a house and a place which is the representative of the holidays.

My informant tells me he has celebrated Persian New Year every since childhood, and has observed these celebrations firsthand several times, since, for him, it is a major celebration. He talked about how even in Los Angeles, Persian tradition is strong, and the preservation of so many specific customs is important for the overall preservation of the holiday.

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Holiday – Persian

“Nowruz” – Persian New Year

“Nowruz (meaning “New Day” in Farsi) is the Iranian New Year. It falls on the first day of Spring (around March 21st) which is also the Spring Equinox, one of only two days in a year when the length of day and night are almost equal.  It celebrates the rebirth of nature in spring when animals and plants start a new life or wake up from their inactivity during the winter months.

The first recorded celebration of Nowruz dates back to over 2500 years ago. Iran at that time was called Persia, which is one of the oldest civilizations of the world.  During that time, Persian Kings celebrated the return of spring in their lavish palace called Persepolis near the city of Shiraz, in the middle of the today’s Iran. Persepolis was the Capital of Persian Empire. All the decisions about governing the vast Persian Empire territory were made there. On Nowruz, the kings would receive a long list of diplomats, government officials and even ordinary citizens in his palace. On these occasions, a variety of gifts were exchanged. The religion of ancient Persians at the time was Zoroastrianism. They were strong believers in “Human Rights”, being “Positive”, “Good” and “Honest”. Their religious motto was, “Good Thoughts, Good Deeds and Good Words.” Celebrating Nowruz for them meant letting into their homes all that is “Good,” “Positive” and “Happy” and getting rid of all things “Negative.” This is still true for all Iranians today no matter where they live.

Nowruz festivities begin long before the first day of spring. It starts with a “Fire Festival” called “Chahar Shanbeh Soori” (meaning “Wednesday Party”) on the night before the last Wednesday of the year and ends with an all-day picnic party with family and friends on the 13th day of spring called, “Sizdeh Bedar” (meaning “Being Outdoor on the 13th”). Preparation for celebrating Nowruz starts quite early. During the weeks leading to spring, the families start a major house-cleaning job. We get rid of old clothes and household things we no longer use. We buy new clothing and shoes for each family member to start the year looking the best we can. We also set up a ceremonial table called “Haft Seen” (meaning “Seven Dishes”). We arrange seven items in seven separate dishes that are believed to bring to our home good fortune and good health. The seven dishes are chosen for what they symbolize. They all start with the letter “S”. The original letter was “SH” and later was changed to “S” after Iranians converted to Islam. The number of “Seven” has long been considered a symbol of good luck and special value in Iranian culture. The dishes are selected from the following list:

1. Sabzeh: Sprouted Grains, symbolizing “Growth”

2. Samanoo:  A sweet type of Porridge-like dish, symbolizing “Strength”

3. Seer: Garlic, symbolizing “Good Health” and “Remedy”

4. Seeb: Apple , symbolizing “Good Health”

5. Senjed: A fruit of Lotus, symbolizing “Love”

6. Sekeh:  Gold Coin, symbolizing “Wealth”

7. Serkeh: Vinegar, symbolizing “Age” and “Patience”

[This was substituted for “Sharab”(Wine) after the religious conversion. Wine, as well as any other alcoholic drink, is considered forbidden in Islam]

8. Sombol: Hyacinth Flower, symbolizing “Smell of Spring”

Other items that are placed on the table include:

  1. Candles: Symbolizing “Light”
  2. Mirror:  Symbolizing “Reflection”
  3. Colored Eggs: Symbolizing “Fertility”
  4. Esphand: Rue Seeds, symbolizing “Keeping away the evil-Eyes”)
  5. Gold Fish: Symbolizing “Creation”
  6. Holy Book: Symbolizing “Guidance”

Iranians believe that a New Year should start with happiness and laughter so that the rest of the year will continue to be spent in joy. “Haji Firouz” is Iran’s version of Santa Claus. He would dress in brightly colored clothes and paint his face like a clown. He walks through the streets and public places while dancing, singing and telling people jokes. Joy and happiness are thought as the best way to get rid of evil. At a time when there was no TV or radio, he would bring news of New Year everywhere he went, especially when he would go to the remote villages.

At the time of “Tahveel” (exact time of Vernal Equinox), all our family members gather around the ceremonial table. We put on our new clothes and shoes. We remember the family members who are no longer among us and pray for them. When the exact moment of “Tahveel” is officially announced on the TV and radios, we hug, kiss and wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year. Older people give the younger ones gifts, usually in the form of new, crisp paper money. The younger family and relatives then go and visit their elders to whish them a happy New Year. It is a special time for kids because they receive numerous gifts wherever they go or when other relatives or guests come over. Nowruz is a time to forgive disagreements and forget the past mistakes. It is the perfect occasion for starting the New Year happy and with a fresh mindset.”

My father and some of his friends wrote this letter and e-mailed it to my high school.  They did this so that my school, which had about four or five students of Persian descent in each grade, would be more aware of the holiday and the traditions.  They also did it so that the students had a reason to take the day (or two, depending on the time of the New Year) off from school.  My parents moved from Iran to America in the 1970’s and they have continued to practice many of the Persian traditions.  They even sent my brother, Farbod, and I to Farsi school where we learned how to read and write in Farsi.  My family still celebrates the Persian New Year and thinks it is very important for everyone to be together at the time of the “tahveel.”  However, I know many Persian families that do not celebrate it as much as we do, and they are even baffled by the fact that we do celebrate it in America.

I personally love this holiday.  It is a chance for my family to all come together since I have family all over the world, such as in Florida, New York, even in London and Germany.  For me, it is like a second Christmas, not because of the gifts but because of the preparation that goes into getting ready for the New Year.  About two weeks beforehand, my mom sets up the “haft seen” and the Wednesday before the New Year we jump over the fires.  That time of year has always given me a festive and celebratory feeling.

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