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.