Contextual Data: I had been hanging out with one of my friends and we got into a conversation about our different cultures and religious backgrounds—he’s a Persian who practices the Baha’i faith. And at one point, he mentioned the Persian New Year, which had just occurred the previous month on March 20th. He grew up in the United States and his whole family (including his grandparents and his extended family) lives here, but they still partake in the these New Years’ traditions. I asked him to tell me more about it — about any specific characteristics or rituals — and the following is an exact transcript of what he described.
“The only ritual I can think of in New Years celebration is the arrangement of what’s called the Haft Sín — Sín is equivalent to the letter “S” in the English alphabet and Haft means “seven.” So what Iranians do in their homes is they create… um…kind of like a banquet of different items beginning with that letter that all have a symbol. Like síb, which means “apple” in Farsi, is a symbol of health and life. And sekhé, which is like a gold coin, is a symbol of wealth. And…um… I think sekhé—No… Seer, which is garlic, is like a symbol of fertility. Or… There’s—There’s like a lot of these different things. I think that there’s apples, there’s goldfish, there’s painted eggs…Yeah. [Laughs.]”
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A few other items that can be a part of the Haft Sín, which my informant later mentioned to me, are: sumac, which is a spice; sír, which is vinegar; sangak, which is wheat bread; and then sometimes a bed of wheatgrass, which the family has grown. When I asked him about what he thought the significance of it was, he replied, “It’s just like, if another Persian came into your house around that time, they would like, look at your Haft Sín and be like ‘Oh, that’s nice’— Kind of like the Christmas tree for Christians, in a way.”
My informant mentioned that in Persian culture, Naw Rúz falls on the first day of spring (usually March 21st), which he says relates to the symbolic idea of spring as “the beginning of life.” So in thinking about Naw Rúz as a celebration of this new life, as well as the liminal nature of the New Year (the in-between phase when people pass from one year to the next), it seems as though the Haft Sín is an important way of ushering in luck for the “new life” ahead — good luck related to health, wealth, fertility, and so on. My friend mentioned that the arrangement varies from family to family, and that the arrangement can exceed seven items, which suggests that it can be a more individual reflection of what a family is hoping to be blessed with in the upcoming year. The arrangement therefore also seems like an important way of bringing together the family.
Given that my informant and his family live in the United States, part of the reason for partaking in this tradition could also be as a means of holding on to their Persian culture.
This offers another description of the Haft Sín table, listing additional items, as well as alternative symbolic meanings to the items. This again alludes to the way that the arrangement can vary from family to family, based on the faith of the family and on what they might be looking forward to in the New Year. Social media also presents a great way to see this variation—searching the hashtag “#haftsin” on Instagram or Tumblr pulls up photos from many different users, illustrating the different ways that Iranian families arrange their tables, as well as what items they include in the arrangement.