Eggs – Persian New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Persian-American
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 18, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.

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Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.

Interview

PK: The one thing is, for the haft seen, we always boil the eggs for the number of people in the house. And after the… new year starts, the new year starts, we all… there are sweets, we eat sweets. One by one we eat eggs…

BK: Do you eat the egg for the haft seen or do you make a new egg?

PK: No, we make it— we eat the egg we made for the haft seen, because you cannot keep the egg, you know, the fresh boiling egg for 13 years [days] on the table! You just eat it, you know, it’s a custom. Because there’s no sin in it, but there’s some other meaning. Like rice. There’s some other meaning.

BK: What’s the meaning of the egg?

PK: Egg is like… lots of kids, for example.

BK: Like fertility?

PK: Yeah fertility for… kids.

BK: Why does it mean that?

PK: It means, for your home to always be full. You know? Iranians like for the family to be big and the home to be full. It’s these days that people don’t have kids or only have 1-2 kids, or none. But those days it was like that.

PK: We didn’t color it either. Just like that, white. But now everything is different.

BK: Why do people color their eggs now?

PK: These days it’s just showing off… vanity play. Back then, nobody colored their eggs. We boiled it and put it on the table. Now here [America] when you look at a haft seen table, it’s like a wedding table! It’s a lot different. For pictures, for sending [pictures], for parties, and this should be prettier than that and vice versa. In the old days [when your father was young] when I’d set up a haft seen I did a lot of work, but slowly over time I got sick of it.

BK: But when you were in Iran—

PK: It’s a simple sofre [table]. Whatever is needed.

BK: Why do you eat the egg? Because I never ate them growing up.

PK: Well here you keep the eggs [sitting on the table] for 13 days. In Iran, we wouldn’t keep the eggs out. We’d leave the sabzeeh [greens] and sheereeny [sweets] out. They didn’t have any cream. Like chickpeas, this type of thing. Those would sit out for 13 days, then you pack it up and toss the sabzeeh.

BK: So when do you make the eggs?

PK: That day. Right before new years, right before the haft seen [ritual]. Like one or two hours before the new year we’ll boil the egg, and right when the year changes we eat it. I don’t know why we eat it, but it doesn’t make sense to keep an egg. So we’d just eat it. I don’t think there’s any significant meaning. We didn’t want to waste it, it would stink and go bad.

Collector’s Reflection

PK’s experience with Persian New Year Eggs is simple: an hour or so before the new year, the family will boil eggs (one for each member of the household). When the new year begins, the eggs are eaten. There is no decoration or display involved in the process. The eggs stand for fertility and prosperity in the new year (fertility being the common theme of eggs across cultures). This aligns with historic, pre-Western influence Persian New Year traditions.

PK is one of my grandmothers. My other, NV, is only 4 years younger than PK, and was born and raised in the same city/community in Iran as PK. Their families were even friends! Yet, NV’s family practiced eggs the way I always have growing up: the eggs were prepared in advance of the new year, decorated by the children, and displayed as part of the haft seen, a table decorated with symbolic objects for the new year. NV’s family is much more westernized than PK’s; they often summered/vacationed in Europe, while PK remained in Iran. The practice of decorating and displaying eggs, then, seems to have originated from the modernized Western practice of Easter Egg decoration. Since the “westernized” eggs sat out, they would be thrown away, not eaten. This goes against the core of Iranian philosophy: never waste food! It was absolutely criminal to throw things out. Leftovers, no matter how small, are always kept. The idea of “wasting” an egg would be insulting to more traditional members of society.