Tuesday 17th May 2022
17th May 2022

Nowruz: The Persian „New Year”

by Mar 15, 2022Culture & Art, Iran, Traditions, Cultural Heritage

Nowruz: The Persian „New year”

Persia…The land of history, culture and architecture…fascinating poetry and warm-hearted people. A landscape of imposing snowy mountaintops…infinite gardens of fragrant damask roses and purple saffron…the freshness of green valleys and forests…and the compelling emptiness of deserts are surrounding vital metropolises and tranquil villages…

Persian New Year

Today’s Iran is the home of several ethnicities, languages and religions, though the official language of the country is Persian (or Farsi), and Islam is the religion of the great majority. Iran is also famous for its distinguished cuisine, delicate fruits and aromatic spices.
One of the most important festivals and the most prominent and significant dates of the Iranian calendar is the day of „Nowruz”. The day of the Persian New Year begins with the spring equinox, which means that the Sun is crossing the equator that causes the length of the night and the day to be the same. Also according to the Solar Hijri calendar, which is the official calendar of Iran, this day counts to be the first day of the month of Farvardin, therefore the very beginning of spring. In the year of 2021 it falls on the 20st March.

Who celebrates Nowruz?

More than 300 million people around the world celebrate Nowruz. Mainly in Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and in some regions of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and people scattered around the globe originating from these regions.
It is not exactly known how far back in history the celebration and the origins of the Persian New Year dates back, but according to some recent researches it must be more than a 3ooo years old tradition from the time of the Great Persian Empire. It is believed to have its roots in Zoroastrianism although Nowruz is not mentioned by this name in the Avesta. Zoroastrianism or Parsi religion still present and practiced by few in Iran is an ancient faith centered around the worship of Ahura Mazda, the creator of all the good things. The collection of the religious teachings of Zoroaster or Zarathustra can be found in the Avesta, the holy source of Zoroastrianism. Fire and water have great significance in Zoroastrianism since both are the symbols of cleanliness and purity.

Celebrating rebirth

Throughout all those centuries, historical, religious and political changes, many cultures and various places, Nowruz celebration added up and developed from this diversity and remained a major festivity of Persians. It is the time of celebrating rebirth and renewal, accepting all the goodness from life as well as rejecting and leaving all the badness and sickness of it. Also, people are celebrating the onset of spring, the revival of nature like an opportunity for purification and a new beginning. This refers to the literary translation of „Nowruz” which means „New Day”.
Saadi, a great Iranian poet wrote: „Awaken, the morning Nowruz breeze is showering the garden with flowers.”
Each country and region have their own specific ways and traditions of celebrating Nowruz. In Iran the preparations start weeks before the day of the New Year, around the beginning of March (according to the Gregorian calendar). All families of the country are starting with the great spring cleaning, the „Khane tekani” which means „shaking the house”. This is also a symbol of renewal. People are washing the carpets and windows, repairing and changing the old furniture and preparing their homes shiny clean for welcoming their family members, friends and guests. Local bazaars are replete with flowers, fruits, nuts and sweets, people are buying special decorations for the New Year, new clothes and gifts for each other, especially for children. Families also start the growing of wheat, lentils, barley or mung beans in a dish to sprout and grow green for the „New day”.
The most important marker of the beginning of Nowruz celebration is „Chaharshanbe Soori”, the last Wednesday evening before spring, when people are lighting up fires, gathering around them and jumping over them. While doing so, they are singing „Zardi-ye man az to…sorkhi-ye to az man…” meaning „my yellow is yours…your red is mine…” Symbolically with this tradition people wish to get rid of their „yellow”: problems, sickness, paleness and instead they welcome the „red”which symbolizes warmth, health and energy.

Haft-seen table

As time is approaching for Nowruz and the seeds has sprouted green, families start to set up their special traditional „Sofreh-ye haft seen”, the „Haft seen table” with seven meaningful things, all starting with „s” (the letter „seen” in the persian alphabet) placed and arranged decoratively.

These essential items are:

sabzee: sprouted wheat, mung beans, lentils or barley – the symbol of rebirth
seeb: apple – the symbol of health and beauty
samanu: wheat pudding (it’s preparation takes up a whole week) – symbol of strength and justice
senjed: dried or fresh oleaster olives – symbol of wisdom
somac: typical red spice – symbol of sunrise and the conquering of the evil
serkeh: vinegar – symbol of patience
seer: garlic – health and purity

Quran

Other important items are also placed on the Haft seen table, like a book of wisdom that can be the Holy Quran, the Bible, the Avesta or a book by the Persian poet Hafez. This book symbolizes the wisdom and relevancy of both the ancient culture and the more recent influences, like religions and current traditions. A mirror as a symbol of reflection, coloured eggs as a symbol of fertility and a goldfish has a symbol of life – and for the joy of little children – are also set on the table. Besides it’s meaningfulness „Sofreh-ye haft seen” is a special Nowruz decoration too. Coins, spring flowers and candles are adding to the delight of the table as well.
On the day of Nowruz a famous fictional character from Iranian folklore, „Haji Firooz” dressed in colorful clothes, with his face painted black, announces the arrival of the festival on the streets by dancing and playing the tambourine.
On this day Iranian families are getting together at the house of their oldest family member for having their special Nowruz meal and for spending precious time with their beloved ones.
Dishes of fish, vegetables and rice, traditional soups (ash), cookies, sweets, fruits and nuts cannot be absent from the menu.

Iranian people resting and having a pic nic on the grass at Isfahan, Iran

The long and joyful festivity ends on the 13th day after New Year’s day. This is called „Seezdah bedar” or the „getting rid of the 13” or „hitting the road”. On the day of Seezdah bedar people need to go out of their houses to spend this time outside in parks, field and plains. Usually people are going out with their whole family and friends for an outdoor picnic. Adults and children are socializing and playing together. As a symbol of giving back to nature and to avoid bad luck, people are throwing their grown wheat into rivers or they throw it on the fields.
May every day of the year glow with good cheer and happiness for you and your family! Have a blessed New Year! Nowruz Mobarek!

Mona Schunk

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