Tag Archives: spring equinox

Eidee – 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.

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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.

Interview

PK: Everybody goes to “Eideedani” [visiting people on new year’s day]. But older people… sit at home. The younger people go to see older people. When I went, for instance, to see my parents… if my house was separate, first I have to go to their house, collect my “idee [gift for the new year], then they would come to my house. Even among friends, whoever is older waits at home, and all your friends— now those days there was no such thing as phones— *coughs* they’d get up and see each other. If they were home, they were, if they weren’t, then no big deal. You’d just go again later. 

PK: Then, that same day at home, the father *coughs* — for the kids—  would put paper money inside a Qur’an… inside the Qur’an they’d put money. It was not a gift like that. To be fair I don’t know about these days. Anyway, they’d put money in the Qur’an, and when the new year began, among the members of the household, the father would take money out from the Qur’an and— depending on your age— he’d give you some money. Whether it was 5 dollars [Note: PK mistakenly uses USD, as opposed to Toman], for example, or for the older ones 10 dollars— that was a lot of money! With one penny you could buy a whole bunch, where I was. Today 1 USD is 24,000 Rial. 24,000! So their money doesn’t have any value at all. Okay?

PK: Then, for instance, they’d give out 5 dollars, 10 dollars… as the years would go by and people got older and things changed, this money became 100 dollars. If you had married and gotten older, they’d give you some coins, you know? It was this way. With the times, some things have changed. Then, everyone would go “Eideedani.” The young ones would visit the old ones. You know? These days it’s the same except people call.

BK: Is “Eidee” always money?

PK: In Iran they’d give money. When we got older, they’d give us gold coins. For instance, when we were younger— you know the families… it depends on their income. Perhaps they’d give you a quarter “Pahlavi” [Note: a Pahlavi is a coin administered under the Pahlavi monarchy.], perhaps it will be half coin, perhaps it will be a whole coin. You know, like one cent, ten cents, five cents, like that

BK: And this money— you’d spend it? Or save it?

PK: Spend it! We’d go have fun with it. We’d go out and buy things. When we were kids we’d go have fun with it.

BK: You know what’s different? I always received “Eidee” as a 2-dollar bill. And we’d never spend it! I’ve collected them through the years, but I’ve never felt like they could be spent. Would you spend the gold coins too?

PK: No, the gold coins? That’s… money, you know? That’s, umm… it depends later on. We’d get ahold of these coins— today you can’t even buy them! I put a whole bunch aside for you. The best ones I gave to your mother [for her wedding]. Big round good ones. Like gold coins of coronation… the king… when they put the crown on his head. I have ones from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth too but it’s silver. I kept it for you. 

BK: Ah, when they’re coronated, they mint coins for the occasion.

PK: Yes. The silver were from England. But the gold were from Iran. *coughs* But they’d give gold, you know? And people would keep the gold. And women, imagine when they’d have too much gold, imagine you have a whole bunch of… umm quarter coins, you go to the goldsmith and have it made into a bracelet. Or a necklace, for instance, something that is larger. And I’d keep the rest.

BK: So if it was paper money or normal, day-to-day currency you’d spend it. But if it was gold you kept it.

Collector’s Reflection

The term Eideedani is a combination of two words: Eidee and deedani. Eidee, which we have established as meaning “a gift for/on Persian New Year” is derived from the name of the holiday: Eid, or Aid. Deedan, which literally means “looking,” is the Farsi term for visiting others. As PK mentioned, with the advent of technology, and the increasing size of the Iranian diaspora, physically visiting people for holidays/new year is practiced less. Instead, you make a phone call or send an email/text message. It is still essential that the young reach out to the old first. Not doing so, especially to a parent or grandparent, is a black mark on one’s reputation.

Many of the customs associated with Persian New Year predate Islam’s prevalence in the formerly Zoroastrian country, Eidee among them. Islamic influences have changed the gifting process, as in PK’s experience money is placed in a Qur’an prior to being distributed. This blesses the currency. The bills are not randomly placed in the text, but bookmark specific passages of the gifter’s choice, which they read when distributing the Eidee. A similar religiously-motivated change is the replacement of wine with vinegar on the haft seen: a table decorated with symbolic objects for Persian New Year.
In my personal experience, Eidee has continued to be purely money; no toys or sweets. The money is American currency rather than Iranian, and my family no longer shares gold for the occasion. However, people still hold on to their ages-old Eidee gold for long-term value. As PK mentioned, the value of Iranian Rial is nothing now, but she received her fair share of gold coins, and only one is still worth its weight.

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.

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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.

Interview

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.” 

Eggs – 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.

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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.

Interview

PK: The one thing is, for the haft seen, we always boil the eggs for the number of people in the house. And after the… new year starts, the new year starts, we all… there are sweets, we eat sweets. One by one we eat eggs…

BK: Do you eat the egg for the haft seen or do you make a new egg?

PK: No, we make it— we eat the egg we made for the haft seen, because you cannot keep the egg, you know, the fresh boiling egg for 13 years [days] on the table! You just eat it, you know, it’s a custom. Because there’s no sin in it, but there’s some other meaning. Like rice. There’s some other meaning.

BK: What’s the meaning of the egg?

PK: Egg is like… lots of kids, for example.

BK: Like fertility?

PK: Yeah fertility for… kids.

BK: Why does it mean that?

PK: It means, for your home to always be full. You know? Iranians like for the family to be big and the home to be full. It’s these days that people don’t have kids or only have 1-2 kids, or none. But those days it was like that.

PK: We didn’t color it either. Just like that, white. But now everything is different.

BK: Why do people color their eggs now?

PK: These days it’s just showing off… vanity play. Back then, nobody colored their eggs. We boiled it and put it on the table. Now here [America] when you look at a haft seen table, it’s like a wedding table! It’s a lot different. For pictures, for sending [pictures], for parties, and this should be prettier than that and vice versa. In the old days [when your father was young] when I’d set up a haft seen I did a lot of work, but slowly over time I got sick of it.

BK: But when you were in Iran—

PK: It’s a simple sofre [table]. Whatever is needed.

BK: Why do you eat the egg? Because I never ate them growing up.

PK: Well here you keep the eggs [sitting on the table] for 13 days. In Iran, we wouldn’t keep the eggs out. We’d leave the sabzeeh [greens] and sheereeny [sweets] out. They didn’t have any cream. Like chickpeas, this type of thing. Those would sit out for 13 days, then you pack it up and toss the sabzeeh.

BK: So when do you make the eggs?

PK: That day. Right before new years, right before the haft seen [ritual]. Like one or two hours before the new year we’ll boil the egg, and right when the year changes we eat it. I don’t know why we eat it, but it doesn’t make sense to keep an egg. So we’d just eat it. I don’t think there’s any significant meaning. We didn’t want to waste it, it would stink and go bad.

Collector’s Reflection

PK’s experience with Persian New Year Eggs is simple: an hour or so before the new year, the family will boil eggs (one for each member of the household). When the new year begins, the eggs are eaten. There is no decoration or display involved in the process. The eggs stand for fertility and prosperity in the new year (fertility being the common theme of eggs across cultures). This aligns with historic, pre-Western influence Persian New Year traditions.

PK is one of my grandmothers. My other, NV, is only 4 years younger than PK, and was born and raised in the same city/community in Iran as PK. Their families were even friends! Yet, NV’s family practiced eggs the way I always have growing up: the eggs were prepared in advance of the new year, decorated by the children, and displayed as part of the haft seen, a table decorated with symbolic objects for the new year. NV’s family is much more westernized than PK’s; they often summered/vacationed in Europe, while PK remained in Iran. The practice of decorating and displaying eggs, then, seems to have originated from the modernized Western practice of Easter Egg decoration. Since the “westernized” eggs sat out, they would be thrown away, not eaten. This goes against the core of Iranian philosophy: never waste food! It was absolutely criminal to throw things out. Leftovers, no matter how small, are always kept. The idea of “wasting” an egg would be insulting to more traditional members of society.

Persian New Year Tradition – Superstitions

Piece: 

“My community, the Persian community, so Persian new year is on the spring equinox which is the first day of spring, it’s supposed to symbolize the start of the new year, but just like a new beginning, everything is starting to bloom again, so one of the things they do for Persian new year is they obviously, everyone all of your friends and family, they set up this table called a Haft-sin, and it’s basically 7 things that starts with the letter s, so they have grass, and then the tuesday before new years, theres this thing called Chaharshanbe Suri, so this is based on the Zoroastrian religion, Zoroastrian it’s one of the oldest religions of the world, dates before like 10,000 years old, uhm and what they do is basically, everyone, your friends and family, set up logs in sequence usually 7 logs, and you like jump over the logs, and that’s supposed to symbolize the fire getting rid of all the bad stuff, the fire cleanses you.”

Background information: The informant is a USC student. He is of Persian descent. This tradition is embedded in his community so it carries substantial weight.

Context: This tradition is celebrated annually, unlike the American New Year, the Persian New Year is celebrated on the first day of spring.

Personal Analysis: The Persian New Year is something that Professor Thompson mentioned during one of the lectures. It was reviewed during the discussion of the spring Equinox. The Persian New Year is also called the “Iranian New Year”, and the celebration is called “Nowruz” The lecture proved to be accurate as the informant confirmed that 7 items are placed around the table called the “Haft Sin” I was shocked to hear that they partake in jumping over the fire in order to be cleansed. Most cultures associate fire with “hell” or “satan”, but in the informant’s culture the fire represents something positive.