Persian New Year [Nowruz in Iran]
Nowruz, in a literal manner, denotes ‘new day,’ and while the celebration is for Persian new year, much of the traditional ceremony belongs to renewal and pray and hope for the future. The roots of the Nowruz tradition stretch deep into history, with the spring equinox (usually 21 March) having been celebrated since before Achaemenid times.
Nowruz festivities stretch for about three weeks. Apart from frenzied shopping, the outward sign of Nowruz is street-side stalls selling the haft seen, or seven ‘S’ es; seven (or more) symbolic items with Farsi names starting with the letter ‘S.’ They are set on a table at home, although you’ll find them everywhere from TV news studios to sidewalks of the streets. Today’s most commonly seven seen, and their symbolic meanings for Nowruz in Iran:
- Sabzeh (green grass or sprout shoots) and samanu (sweet wheat pudding) represent rebirth and fertility;
- Seer (garlic) and sumaq (sumac) symbolize hoped-for-good health;
- Seeb (apple) and senjed (a dried fruit) represent the sweetness of life;
- Sonbol (hyacinth) is for beauty
- On many tables, you also see sekeh (a gold coin, symbolizing adequate income), serkeh (vinegar to ward off bitterness),
- A mirror
- A Quran and candles
On the Tuesday night before the last Wednesday of the year, another pre-Islamic tradition is held. Chahar Shanbeh-Soori (Wednesday fire) sees people sing, dance (men only), and jump over fires.
The jumping symbolizes the burning away of bad luck or health, to be changed by the healthy redness of the flames. However, actually finding a fire can be tough. Chahar Shanbe-Soori is viewed as a pagan festival. After all this, Nowruz itself finally arrives. Families gather around the Haftseen table to repeat a prayer looking for happiness, good health, and success, before having Sabzi Polo (rice and vegetables) and Mahi (fish). Mothers are also expected to paint and make symbolic hard-boiled eggs, one for every child of the home. At the present time of the equinox (announced on every TV channel), people hug and kiss, and children are given Eidi (presents). For the following two weeks, Iranians travel the country to visit their beloved relatives and friends in their home towns, before Nowruz celebrations finish on the 13th day of the year, Sizdah Be Dar (usually 2 April). Everyone leaves home to go picnicking out of town, taking their Haftseen Sabzeh with them. The Sabzeh is either thrown into water or, in some cases, left to blow off the roof of the car. Either way, the Sabzeh is meant to have soaked up the bad aspects of the previous year, so this ceremony symbolizes getting rid of bad luck.