Tag Archives: new years

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.

Don’t Sweep the Floor on Lunar New Year

Main Piece:

D: On the first day of New Year, you don’t sweep the floor. They believe that you’re gonna sweep away all of the good things– they don’t talk about luck, they talk about wealth, money. So you just keep it inside the house, or maybe you can gather it in one spot and leave it there. Until…maybe– because they celebrate on the first, second, and third [days]– those are the three main, then on the third day, you can take away the trash. Or, if you swept it outside, you can sweep it back in. 

Background:

My informant is my father, who was born and raised in Vietnam. Vietnamese New Year is often a large celebration, which goes according to the Lunar calendar. In Vietnamese, New Year is called Tết, and is full of superstitions and traditional practices to ensure the following year will be filled with good luck and fortune. My father’s grandfather and mother thus performed this practice every New Year, however, my father does not believe in it as much. Since immigrating to the United States in the 1990s and having his own family, we have not performed this practice.

Context:

This is a transcription of a live conversation between my father and me. He often tells me stories about his life and past and was reminded of this story when I asked him about folk magic.

Thoughts:

Though I was born in the United States, being the first generation of American-born children in my family, I was raised with many customs and traditions from Vietnam. Since I was young, Vietnamese New Year has always been a large celebration. Many other customs of the New Year have been continued after my parents’ generation immigrated, while others have not. It’s interesting to see which customs continued and which customs they stopped performing. It seems my grandmother and her generation hold onto certain superstitions much more than my parents and their generation. My father has always been one to not be very superstitious. Thinking of when he was a child, Vietnam was in the midst of war, and after, had to rebuild the country. During this time, financial insecurity was common. I can understand then, why this practice may have been performed more and the superstition believed more during that time when there was much uncertainty. Folk magic is often employed in such times of uncertainty. Specifically, this folk magic practice is homeopathic magic, where the act of sweeping mimics sweeping wealth out of your home (and your possession). Now that my family is not as worried about financial instability, the practice has not been continued. 

12 grapes

BACKGROUND: My informant, IC, was born in the US. His entire family is from Ecuador and is bilingual (English and Spanish). IC and I were having a conversation about our families and party customs among immigrants and he brought up this custom that his family uses for good luck.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend. We originally started talking about our families and the different family parties we’ve been to and that eventually morphed into IC explaining a custom his family has on New Year’s.

IC: For new years, there’s 12 grapes that are meant to represent the 12 months in a year. Right before the new year, when it’s like 11:59, you eat all the grapes. Basically, after each grape you eat, you have to like, make a wish. Oh and — oo! Wait… (long pause) I’m literally stupid as sh-t, I just remembered um, during the new year too, like once it hits 12, you need to throw rice around your whole house. It’s supposed to be so that the next year you have food.

THOUGHTS: This custom is interesting to me because I feel like it is much more in line with the idea of the new year being a time of celebrating change and preparing for the future. In American culture, it is customary to give someone a kiss at midnight for good luck. The 12 grapes however are almost like 12 different resolutions, preparing the person for what they want in the coming year.

Vecchione

Main piece:

L.S.: Il Vecchione is a representative figure made of wood which at the end of the year, is burned, metaphorically representing the destruction of the old and of the bad things which happened during the year, so to begin the new year with novelty, curiosity and…and some sort of positivity. 

Background:

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. She members going to Bologna’s main square, every year of her adolescence to witness this ritualistic performance with the whole city’s community gathered there.

Context:

The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room and taking about traditions which have been carried out, throughout time, in the city of Bologna. 

Thoughts:

Since antiquity, many were the ritualistic traditions related to the time cycle, and, in particular, New Year’s Eve has alway represented the liminal day par excellence, it being the relatively short period of time between the end of the old year and the advent of the new. 

The tradition of burning a pile of wood, in this case portrayed with human features and appearances, is common to quite a lot of cultures and it plays the role of keystone in the natural and social cycle of seasons. As a matter of fact, as my informant pointed out, il Vecchione, which in Italian translates into ‘the super-old’, is lighted up on fire in the attempt of destroying what is old, past and to-be-forgotten -eliminating also all the bad and negative events the year which is ending has brought with it-, so that from its ashes a new, glorious and successful year -and consequently man- can rise and flourish. A type of ritualistic passage is committed, that is, the passage between one cycle of time and the next one is, through the burning, fulfilled and completed.