Nowruz celebrations mark the beginning of the Persian New Year and coincides with the Vernal Equinox, marking the beginning of spring.
The occasion will mark year 1396 in the Iranian calendar, however, it is also an event that is celebrated by Afghans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, some Iraqis, Azeris, Georgians and other countries influenced by ancient Persia.
Nowruz is traditionally a time spent with family and is celebrated by the gathering of the immediate family around the Haft Seen, a decorated spread, for the exact moment of the New Year followed by an exchange of presents.
It is customary for the family to gather at the home of the family’s eldest for a sumptuous lunch or dinner which has to include Sabzi Polo Mahi (herbed rice with fish).
The next 13 days after Nowruz are a time to visit family and friends’ at their homes, also known as Eid Deedani, literally meaning seeing Eid. Eid Deedani is a particularly happy occasion for children, who get to pocket brand new currency kept for them inside the Quran by the house owner as gifts. The United Nations includes Nowruz on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The following is an overview of traditions associated with Nowruz:
A Persian Santa Claus and Troubadour
Amoo, or “Uncle,” Nowruz, and his sidekick Haji Piruz are folk characters who herald the spring. Uncle Nowruz, like Santa Claus, hands out presents to children and is an older man with a white beard.
Haji Piruz, his clownish assistant, sings joyous songs and plays a tambourine or drum in city streets and squares. Men and boys blacken their faces with soot, and wear bright red clothing and a conical hat to portray the character in hopes of earning some coins for providing entertainment.
The following is a translation of one common song associated with Haji Piruz:
Wind and rain have gone.
Lord Nowurz has come.
Friends, convey this message.
The New Year has come again
This spring be your good luck
The tulip fields be your joy.
Nowruz is celebrated on the Spring Equinox, but the holiday includes many stages and weeks of preparation.
Iranians begin preparing their homes for Nowrouz weeks in advance. The annual spring cleaning is known in Farsi as khoneh takooni, or “shaking the house.” Families meticulously wash rugs, windows, curtains and repair furniture. They throw out or donate old household goods and purchase new clothing to greet the coming spring.
Haft Seen Table
One of the most important Nowruz traditions is setting the haft seen table, which includes seven symbolic items all starting the with an “s” sound:
• Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal
• Samanu (sweet pudding): For affluence and fertility
• Senjed (sweet, dried lotus tree fruit): For love
• Serkeh (vinegar): For patience and wisdom gained through aging
• Sir (garlic): For medicine and maintaining good health
• Sib (apples): For health and beauty
• Sumac (crushed spice made from reddish berries): For recalling the sunrise
Additional items on the table include:
• Mirror: To reflect on the past year
• Live goldfish in a bowl: To represent new life
• Orange in a bowl of water: To symbolize the Earth
• Decorated eggs: For fertility
• Coins: For future prosperity
• Books of classical poetry and/or the Koran: For spirituality
On the last Wednesday of the year, Iranians set up bonfires in public places and leap over the flames in a ritual, Chahar Shanbeh Soori, thought to ensure good health for the year. People sing the following song addressing the fire while jumping:
Give me your beautiful red color
And take back my sickly pallor!
Since the 1979 revolution, hardliner clerics and public officials have warned against observing the ritual, citing safety hazards and roots in pre-Islamic traditions. In recent years, youth have begun using firecrackers and other fireworks.
For Chahar Shanbeh Soori, some Iranians make wishes and distribute a special soup consisting of roasted garbanzo beans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and dried figs, apricots and raisins.
Another soup, Ash-e-reshteh, is traditionally served around Nowrouz. The hearty mixture is filled with noodles and multiple types of beans. The noodle knots represent the many possibilities for the coming year, and untangling them is thought to bring good fortune.
Sabzi pollo mahi, is a common fish and rice dish served during Nowrouz. The rice is mixed with green herbs to symbolize the coming spring.
Several types of sweets are also ubiquitous at this time of year.
• Baqlava: flaky pastry sweetened with rosewater
• Naan bereng: cookies made from rice flour
• Noghl: sugar-coated almonds
• Samanu: a sweet pudding made from sprouted wheat
The Count Down
After Chahar Shanbeh Soori, Iranians wait with their families and friends for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs, Tahvil in Farsi. Elders distribute sweets and children receive coins. People begin making short visits to the homes of friends and family throughout the day and night. At each house visit, hosts provide nuts, sweets, dried fruits and tea to their guests.
On the 13th day of the New Year, Iranians try to get rid of the bad luck associated with the number 13 by spending the day outside having fun with family and friends. Many people pack picnic lunches and head to parks or the countryside. The tradition is known as sizdah bedar, or “getting rid of the 13th.”
Iranians also discard the sabzeh grass from the Haft Seen table, which collected all the potential bad fortune of a family during Nowruz. Some unmarried girls knot grass blades symbolizing the union of a man and woman in hopes of finding a husband before the next Nowruz.