Tag Archives: New year’s rituals

Iranian New Year Tradition (Haft-sin)

Name: Haft-sin (هفت‌سین)

Main Piece

Me: So, I know people in Iran celebrate their New Year next month.

Informant: Yeah, Nowruz. It’s in March, but I’m not sure what day it’s on because it’s always different I think.

Me: Is there anything you guys do on that day? Or any particular dish that is traditional for New Years?

Informant: Well, yeah there are foods that are usually on the table but that’s not… I guess it’s not as important as Haft-sin (written: هفت‌سین). I don’t… have you heard of that?

Me: No, never.

Informant: Ok ok. So, there’s a small table, maybe off to the corner, and we put seven foods that start with the letter “s” on it. It doesn’t need to be cooked food or prepared in anyway because we don’t have to eat it. This is supposed to keep evil spirits away and bring good luck for the rest of the year.

Me: Oh, so you don’t have to eat these things, you just have to have them there.

Informant: Yeah, yeah. It’s stuff like vinegar and spices that you can’t really just eat like that, so…

Me: Can you tell me what your family puts on the table?

Informant: Yeah, we put garlic (سیر –  pronounced “seer”). We put sabzeh (سبزی), which is some type of green herb. I’m not sure how you say it in English, sorry!

Me: Oh that’s ok!

Informant: Yeah, then we put vinegar, like I said. It’s called serkeh (سرکه). We also put this pudding called samanu (سمنو). I can’t translate that either, and I’m not even sure what went in it, but it was kind of sweet. And then my mom sprinkled sumac on the table, too. You know sumac.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: Yeah, we pronounce it somakh (سماق). And then we put apples, which is seeb (سیب). And olives, which is senjed (سنجد). And then… that’s it I think. And my mom liked to decorate the table with flowers and candles. 

Me: That’s interesting. So, was this the standard? You had to have all seven of these things on that table and decorate it with flowers to have good luck?

Informant: Well, my mom always did it this way because she… she said it was the right way to do it. But pretty much, everyone just decorated it how they wanted to. I don’t think flowers were the standard.

Me: So you just put these on a table in the corner and it brings good luck?

Informant: Yeah, that was the point. I mean, it doesn’t have to be in a corner, I was just saying that. But yeah, it was supposed to keep evil spirits and evil people out of your house that year. I don’t know if it ever worked, but we always did it anyways, so…

Me: Did you personally like this tradition? Do you feel like you would do it in the future if it were left up to you?

Informant: Yeah. Yeah I think I would. Mainly because I want my kids to know the tradition. But I wouldn’t expect it to actually work. I would do it, but not to keep the evil spirits away.

Me: Right, right. So just to keep the tradition alive.

Informant: Mhmm.

Background

My informant was born and raised in Iran, and she remembers this tradition being performed every year. She explains that her mother is the one that kept the tradition alive in the household.

Context

Haft-sin is performed every Iranian New Year on March 22. According to my informant, this tradition is more widely performed in Iran than it is in the United States, where my informant currently resides.

My Thoughts 

I had never heard of this before. We don’t have anything like this in my culture, and I have never been exposed to this in America. This is an interesting tradition, and I wondered what the significance was of putting each of these foods on the table. For more information on this, visit the first citation at the bottom of the page. In summation of the information on the website, “Sabzeh is a symbol of rebirth and renewal of nature. Samanu represents fertility and the sweetness of life. Senjed is for love and affection. Serkeh… symbolizes patience and age. Seeb…is a symbol of health and beauty. Seer…is for good health and Somaq…symbolizes the sunrise and the spice of life.”

I found it interesting that seven is the lucky number in Iran, much like it is here in America. Upon further research, I found that the number seven held enormous significance in Iranian culture. For more information on the lucky number seven, visit the second citation at the bottom of the page, which is an article from the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies.

Sources:

Bakhtiari, Parisa. “All About Haft-Sin: The 7 ‘S’ of Iranian New Year.” SURFIRAN, 28 Mar. 2021, surfiran.com/all-about-haft-sin-the-7-s-of-iranian-new-year/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Shahbazi, A. Shapur. “HAFT (seven), the “heptad” & Its Cultural Significance in Iranian History – (The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies – CAIS)©.” The of the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)©, www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Culture/haft.htm. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Nowruz Celebrations in Lebanon

RA: “Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, and it’s a different time every spring. I was young when we left Iran, so I don’t really remember celebrating Nowruz there. We also never went back there during the spring, so the timing never worked out after we moved. When we lived in the UK, we couldn’t really celebrate Nowruz there either because we were so separated from our extended family, and there weren’t many Iranians living in London at the time. Most of my memories of Nowruz come from Lebanon. There were a lot of Iranians living in Lebanon then, and there still are, so it was a big holiday that lots of people there celebrated, even people who weren’t Iranians. There were lots of Nowruz parties and celebrations in the parks so you would sometimes see bonfires and lots of music just while walking around. What made Lebanon interesting is that there were lots of Arabs who celebrated with us, in addition to a lot of British and American ex-pats who worked with my dad at the oil company. So our Nowruz celebrations always had lots of people who had no clue what was going on but who were having lots of fun. My favorite part of Nowruz—because there were, you know, lots of parts like in most Iranian holidays—Anyways, my favorite part was Chahar Shanbeh Soori, where you’re jump over fireworks or a bonfire. You make wishes for the new year, and you leave behind the bad things you don’t want to take into the new year. I think its celebrated it on the last Wednesday before the new year because shanbeh means first in Farsi, but it might be the first Wednesday of the new year, I don’t really remember. There’s lots of partying and food, because there always is at Iranian holidays, and afterward we would build bonfires to jump over. This feels super dangerous in hindsight… there were bonfires all over this park we went to, and there was also a big bonfire in the center of the park that we would all sing and dance around. My brothers and I would race each other and jump over as many bonfires in the park as we could…which I can’t believe they let us do, but I think parents just liked to let their kids loose then. I just remember it being really beautiful at night, because you could see bonfires glowing everywhere across the park, and also in people’s backyards and front yards—wherever you could build a bonfire. That must have been so dangerous, but I don’t remember anyone ever burning themselves, just having lots of fun.  “

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Why was this your favorite part of Nowruz? What did Chahar Shanbeh Soori (did I say that right?) mean to you?”

RA: “I only ever celebrated Nowruz when I was young, because I left Lebanon in Middle School, so I don’t remember much now. I just remember how beautiful the fires were and how much fun I had with my family running around the park. It’s a beautiful part of beginning the new year, and I think it really helps energize and excite you for the new year.”

Personal interpretation:

Fire is important in many Iranian practices due to its spiritual significance in Zoroastrianism. Fire is often associated with cleansing and with divinity, so the role of fire in Chahar Shanbeh Soori may be seen as a way of cleansing yourself of impurities before the year to come, as well as entreating the divine to bless the coming year.

Apples & Honey on Rosh Hashanah

Main Piece:

Informant: You have supposed to dip a slice of apple in some honey and eat it. It’s supposed to guarantee that you have a sweet year.

Interviewer: Do you remember when you learned about this?

Informant: It’s always been in my life. It’s not specific to our family, It’s a Jewish thing. Remember we’re Jewish? You know, it’s your grandmother’s thing though. She always made me and D— (The informant’s sister) eat the apple.

Interviewer: When is this performed?

Informant: Every Rosh Hashanah, before the meal starts.

Context:

The informant is my father, and he is describing a traditional Jewish ritual associated with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday symbolizing the start of the Jewish New Year. The informant learned this tradition through their mother. At our family Rosh Hashanah dinners, dipping the apple in the honey is a formality. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner that I realized this was a common Jewish practice. This conversation was transcribed from a recording of a phone call. He learned this tradition as a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

Analysis:

I think it’s interesting that this religious custom was passed down through familial relationships. Even more so, I didn’t associate this tradition with being distinctly Jewish until I was told so. For me, this was a tradition exclusive to my own family. For my Dad, this tradition tied him to Judaism. My father is not overly religious, so claiming a piece of religious folklore from someone like him. Even though he doesn’t place much value in religious symbols, he has never failed to perform this tradition on Rosh Hashanah. Possibly, it is the value he places in his mother that had shifted this Jewish tradition into a familial superstition.

Colombian New Year’s Rituals

Collected from mother and daughter Marlly Hernandez and Patty Moso during a Virgin Saturday brunch with an easter egg hunt for the kids.

There is a whole subset of rituals that are supposed to occur on New Years in Colombia if you want some particular outcomes. I gathered these from my Aunt Marlly and my cousin Patty:

  • At the stroke of midnight 12 green grapes that have been dropped in a flute of Champaign and are eaten at each stroke/dong to bring a on a lucky new year. The person who is most successful without choking on the grapes or have Champaign snort out of the nose will have the better lucky year. This ritual is the most common and followed in Colombia and the US. I always found it fun to watch because my grandfather and my mom were never successful but my grandmother always seem to be able to do it unless she starts talking, then grapes will go flying.
  • For those who want the coming year to be full of travel will place luggage outside of the front door. My mom was in Colombia for New Years and she said that it was not a matter of just leaving your bags outside the door but that you had take a walk around the block after midnight. Both my abuelos and my Aunt Nora also confirmed this although Patty and Marlly said it was not necessary. My mom said that taking the walk around the block was fun to see all the different colors and variety of luggage people were carrying around and a very social event as people talked about where they wished they could travel to in the coming year. This sounds like a ritual I wouldn’t mind trying, since I love to travel.
  • Crack open a raw egg in glass/bowl of water, place it under you bed New years eve and leave over night. This is done to absorb any bad things/luck that may happen in the coming year. In the morning you throw away the egg and water, which has now supposedly absorbed all potential negative energy ensuring a better year. I found this ritual kind of creepy for some reason I cannot personally identify.
  • Women are supposed to put on puts on yellow (good luck color) underwear inside out new years eve and at midnight they are supposed to turn their underwater they correct way for good luck. This is challenging because Champaign soaked grapes are supposed to be swallowed with each ring of midnight and a women would need to find a private place to change their underwear without flashing a group of party goers while allegedly chugging grapes. I found this the most bizarre of the rituals.
  • In Colombia paper maché handmade life size dolls dressed with old clothes and shoes and is burned to show the end of the old year to insure nothing especially negative events remains from the previous year. When cars go buy they will throw coins at the dolls to bring wealth. Smoke makes me asthmatic so I would not be very interested in participating in this ritual.
  • At New Years Parties after chugging grapes go around kissing everyone on both cheeks at the party and to verbally wish them a Happy New Year, this action is supposed to bring good blessings to everyone involved. Having being part of Colombian New Years parties here in the states, I can attest that this is not a voluntary ritual, you will be kissed and covered with gross amounts of lipstick all over you face by people you do not even know, not my favorite ritual.

Analysis: Rituals are common in Colombia because of its rich history of catholic, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous roots. With cultural appropriation and annexation sometimes rituals are the only things you can keep with you. Most of these rituals seem nonsensical and why there were done or where they originated seem to be a mystery, they are just rituals that are followed because they are mainly benign and you have nothing to lose but your dignity and hopefully a wonderful year ahead to gain, if you followed the rituals.