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Nowrooz, Iranian New Year

Iranian New Year

Every year, millions celebrate Persian New Year, or Nowruz which refers back to thousands of years. In Iran, the new year begins with the advent of spring, and most people in the country welcome it by doing a home deep clean, celebrating a season of new life, and wishing for good luck in the year ahead.

What is Nowruz?

You might have heard about Nowruz generally. The United Nations formally recognized it as an international holiday in 2010. Nowruz marks the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one, and it occurs on the day of the vernal equinox.

More accurately, the new year begins the second the equinox does — so, not just at the stroke of midnight. Usually, the equinox happens from March 19 to 21; there are also aspects of Nowruz that permeate Persian culture for weeks leading up to the holiday and mostly contunue for 2 weeks.

 

The best estimates Nowruz dates back to 3,000 years and Nowruz’s origin story is that rooted in Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion that predates both Christianity and Islam. (Since Zoroastrianism dates back thousands of years, it’s hardly confined to within the borders of Iran or the many versions of the Persian Empire there have been — which is why Nowruz is also celebrated by millions of non-Iranians around the world.)

How do you prepare for Nowruz?

People start getting ready for Nowruz about three weeks before the actual vernal equinox. Pretty much everyone goes into serious spring-cleaning mode, ridding their homes of any unnecessary clutter and lingering grime that’s settled in over the past year so they can start fresh. At this time of year in Iran, you’re likely to see countless Persian rugs hanging outside, where their owners can beat the dust out of them.

In these same weeks leading up to the actual day, families also set aside a space for a “haft-seen,” or a collection of items that symbolize a different hope for the new year. While some families add their own variations to the haft-seen (more on those in a bit), there are seven things that are always included:.

Sabzeh:

Some kind of sprout or grass that will continue to grow in the weeks leading up to the holiday, for rebirth and renewal.

Senjed:

Dried fruit, ideally a sweet fruit from a lotus tree, for love.

Sib:

Apples, for beauty and health.

Seer:

Garlic, for medicine and taking care of oneself.

Samanu:

A sweet pudding, for wealth and fertility.

Serkeh:

Vinegar, for the patience and wisdom that comes with aging.

Sekeh:

Coin, A symbol of prosperity to increase family fund.

Nowrooz, the new life celebration

– While these seven S items are the foundation of a haft-seen (which literally means “seven S’s”), the tradition has evolved to the point where there are several other things you can include such as a mirror symbolizing reflection, colored eggs for fertility, coins for prosperity, and, if we were feeling ambitious, a live goldfish for new life, a Quran and Iran’s most beloved poet, Hafez book.

* Once the day of Nowruz arrives, it kicks off a 13-day celebration of dinners, family visits, and reflections on the year ahead. On the 13th day, you take the sabzeh that’s been growing in the haft-seen to whatever natural body of running water you can find and let it float away, to release the old and usher in the New Year. The Youths also tie the grass as they believe can reach to their loves.

 

** The last Tuesday before Norwuz is known as shab-e chahar shanbeh suri (a loose translation from Persian into phonetic English), or “Eve of Red Wednesday.” The day involves building public bonfires, jumping over them, and repeating a single phrase: “Zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man!” This roughly translates to, “Give me your beautiful red color, and take back my sickly pallor!” The idea, in keeping with Nowruz’s overarching theme of renewal, is to cleanse away the past year so you can start the new one refreshed and renewed.

*** Children and elders make out especially well during Nowruz. At the beginning of the 13-day celebration, families will gather at the home of their oldest family member to pay their respects. It is also common that in Nowruz, families visit each other in their homes.

**** The centerpiece of most Nowruz meals will be sabzi polow ba mahi, an herbed rice served with some kind of whitefish. Then you might have a kuku sabzi, which bakes eggs with a whole mess of herbs like dill, cilantro, parsley, fenugreek, tarragon, and more. 

– As is fitting for Persian and Zoroastrian culture, the ceremonies surrounding Nowruz center on community, family, and a deep respect for tradition.