Tag Archives: spring cleaning

New Clothes – Persian New Year

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.


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.


BK: So you were saying, in the morning when you wake up, all your clothes are new?

PK: Yes, from underwear and beyond— now they say everything should be new. Everything new. It’s with the new year, new clothing, new everything. Now frankly if it has any other meaning I don’t know. But from childhood we would wake up [in the new year] with so much joy and mirth and we’d all change our clothes, from underwear to undershirts, everything. They would sew new clothes, you know? [In Iran] it wasn’t like now where you’d go shopping… you had to have your clothes made. “Khayat,” you know, tailor. Then, everything was new. Even a ribbon for your hair was new. Everything new.

BK: What would happen to the old stuff?

PK: Nothing. It’s not like we threw it away! We just… wanted something new. Then, all dressed up, we’d go do “Aideedani” [visiting people during the new year].

Collector’s Reflection

With the strike of the new year, PK’s family would immediately change their clothes. Often, the clothing they changed into had been sewn specially for the occasion. It was not essential to change your entire wardrobe— that would be wasteful. But it was important to begin the new year fresh, and clothing was a part of this. You wouldn’t only wear a new t-shirt and shorts, though. Men would dress in tailored suits, women would adorn themselves in fresh jewels.

This tradition has evolved as the world has Westernized. Persian-Americans often go on a shopping spree on or prior to the new year to stock up on fresh clothing. The time aligns with the American tradition of “Spring Cleaning,” so while in Iran one wouldn’t toss their old garments, today it’s much more “out with the old, in with the new.” 

Spring Cleaning and Shopping: A Nowruz Tradition

Background: The informant is a sophomore film student at USC. He learned the tradition from practicing it with his mother’s side of the family during his childhood in San Ramon, CA. His mother was born in the US to Iranian parents and moved back to Iran for a brief period of time before moving back to the US. It is worth noting that the informant prefers the term Persian rather than Iranian when discussing his cultural background.  

Context: The following is transcribed from an over-the-phone interview with the informant. The informant and I are well acquainted so the discussion was casual.


Informant: “Nowruz begins on the spring equinox. I think usually it’s the first day of the month, there’s an Iranian month, Farvardin. But like it’s not only the beginning of spring it’s also the first day of this new month sort of how like January 1st is our new year. And so some of the ways that it’s celebrated..the big thing that I remember about it. I know there’s spring cleaning and there’s shopping. That’s actually, that’s literally a part of the culture. You clean the whole house and you go shopping.”

Collector: Do you shop for clothes or a specific item?

Informant: “It’s like everything. It’s sort of like… It’s like ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ you know. Which is kind of funny because it’s like super commercial but it’s also at the core of the holiday.”

Analysis: To me, deep cleaning and then shopping seems like an intuitive way to start anew, and yet it has never been a facet of my New Year’s tradition. Cleaning the entire house and then replacing old objects with new ones symbolizes rebirth, a new start, a new year. The holiday takes place in spring, a season associated with regeneration from winter and new life. By incorporating this tradition into the holiday, the participants regenerate from the past year and materially begin anew. I thought it was interesting that he noted the commercial aspect of the holiday as “funny,” indicating that he views holidays existing in a realm somewhat separate from consumerism despite most American holidays revolving around commercial products.