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Rochester Local

Celebrating Nowruz | Persian New Year

haft-Sin
Haft-Sin Table

Persian New Year, or Nowruz meaning ‘new day,’ is an ancient celebration that is more than three thousand years old. It begins at the spring equinox when the sun crosses the equator. Day and night are equal. This moment is the end of winter and the beginning of spring when the Persian New Year begins. Nowruz starts on March 21st and lasts 13 days. 

For over three hundred million people on the Iranian Plateau, encompassing the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Nowruz is celebrated. In some of the countries in this area, Nowruz is an official holiday marked by grand festivities.

nowruz
image | https://twitter.com/UN

The United Nations General Assembly adopted March 21st as “International Nowruz Day” in a resolution in 2010. Nowruz is now recognized as an international holiday.

The Iranian people like other nations celebrate Nowruz with very old traditions. As an Iranian, I want to share our Nowruz traditions and their importance in Iranian culture. 

In the history and customs of ancient Iran, it is mentioned that Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and the beginning of spring symbolize the blossoming and awakening of nature. For this reason, in harmony with the changes in nature, people believe they should begin with new perspectives and goals in the new year. 

 

Spring Cleaning — Khaneh Tekani

Bringing in the new year starts with cleaning. About one month before Nowruz, Iranian families start cleaning their houses and cleaning all their belongings in the house to preparing their home for the arrival of the beautiful spring energy and blessing to their homes. 

Khaneh tekani
Khaneh tekani

Iranians even make changes in their personal and physical context. For example, a few days before the new year, many will go to the hair salon to style their hair. All hair salons are very busy before the new year. 

 

Nowruz Shopping — Kharide Nowruz

Kharide Nowruz 

Shopping in preparation for the new year is another Iranian tradition. Everybody buys new clothes for the whole family for Nowruz Day. Most of the shopping centers in Iran, including local markets and special temporary Nowruz markets, are very busy.  Nowruz shopping usually includes buying new clothes and shoes, especially for children.

Families also shop for the various foods that will be used during the Nowruz celebrations. Ajeel, which includes various nuts and seeds such as pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and dried mulberries. These Ajeel items are purchased in anticipation of the festive Haft-Seen table and, along with various fruits, sweets, chocolates, and tea, are served to every guest visiting for Nowruz.

Nowruz has its special sweets, and the most famous ones include sweet-coated chickpeas, Kermanshah rice cookies, and Yazdi Baklava. Families may either prepare these sweets themselves or purchase them ready-made from confectioneries and then use them on the Haft-Seen table or during the reception of guests.

Wednesday Party —  Chaharshanbe Souri 

Chaharshanbe Souri is one of the Iranian festivities that takes place from the eve of the last Tuesday of the year until after midnight on the last Wednesday of the year. This celebration is a prelude to the Nowruz festival and signifies the joyous conclusion of the frigid days.

Chaharshanbe Souri
Chaharshanbe Souri

During this event, people leap over bonfires, casting away evils and illnesses into the flames to burn. In return, they receive warmth and energy from the fire as a ritual to start the new year. It is customary to sing the phrase “Sorkhi to az man, zardi man az to ” (Your redness is mine, my yellowness is yours ) while leaping over the fire.

Families will gather in their yard or open space at home to build bonfires, or sometimes all the neighbors in a neighborhood will work together collecting thin, small, dry pieces of wood. They divide these pieces of wood into three, five, or seven (odd numbers) small sections, placing them in a line with short intervals, making it easy to leap over. As darkness falls everyone gathers around, ignites the bonfires and leaps over them.

Spoon-banging — Qashoq-Zani

Another tradition of Chaharshanbe Souri in Iran is the custom of “Qashoq-Zani” or spoon-banging. In this tradition, young girls and boys cover their heads with a piece of cloth to remain unrecognized and then go door-to-door visiting friends and neighbors. They bring bowls and spoons, and at each door bang on the bowls with spoons.

The homeowners hearing the banging come to the door and pour snacks, sweets, chocolates, nuts, and sometimes money into their bowls. This was believed to open the fortunes of young girls and boys. While this tradition was more prevalent in times past, many young people today are seeking to revive and promote this custom.

Haft-Seen Table

After performing the pre-New Year traditions and making Nowruz purchases, each Iranian family prepares a table of Nowruz called the Haft-Seen. This table uses seven items that start with the letter of the Persian alphabet “seen” (letter S in English). Every item represents renewal, a new start, and springtime. 

nowruz
Haft-Seen Table

 

Typically, the Haft-Seen table is arranged in a prominent room of the house one day before the start of the new year and remains until the thirteenth day. 

The seven symbols of the Haft-Seen table are as follows:

  1. Sabzeh: (sprouted wheat grass) represents rebirth and growth. With about two weeks remaining until Nowruz, people plant various grains such as wheat, mung beans, lentils, corn, and others in different containers. These are placed on the Haft-Seen table for Nowruz day.   
  2. Samanu: sweet wheat pudding, represents power and strength.
  3. Senjed: sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree, the symbol of love.
  4. Somāq: the crushed spice of berries, represents sunrise.
  5. Serkeh: vinegar, the symbol of age and patience.
  6. Seeb: apple, represents health and natural beauty.
  7. Seer: garlic, the symbol of health and medicine.

In addition to these elements, a mirror is placed on the table to reflect the past symbolically. Several colorful tulips and hyacinth are arranged on the table as the symbol of spring’s arrival. Coins are added as the symbol of wealth and prosperity, and a clock as the symbol of time. Painted eggs are used as symbols of fertility, and a golden fish in a beautiful glass bowl symbolizes new life. Candles are lit on the table as symbols of light, brightness, and joy. Lastly, an ancient Iranian book titled “Shahnameh” is placed on the table as a symbol of wisdom.

New Year’s Eve

Preparing a special dish called Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (herbed rice with fish) is a tradition for the night before Nowruz Day. Iranians believed that on the eve of Nowruz, they should eat a dish with green herbs to symbolize prosperity, vibrance, and abundance in life throughout the year. Eating rice dishes on the eve of the new year was done to ensure blessings, fertility, and productivity in their fields in the coming year. Fish is eaten with this dish as a symbol of life, wealth, and abundance. 

Sabzi Polo ba Mahi
Sabzi Polo ba Mahi

 

Nowruz Day (New Year Day)

On the day of Nowruz and at the moment of the Iranian New Year’s transition, Iranian families, dressed in their new and fresh clothes, gather around the Haft-Seen table. Following the ancient Iranian tradition, moments before the commencement of the new year they start praying and wishing well for themselves and all their family members. They pray for the fulfillment of wishes and desires in the new year, seeking divine blessings and prosperity.

nowruz
Nowruz Haft-Sin Table, contributed image

In the past, when radio and television did not exist, the moment of New Year’s transition was marked by local musicians playing their instruments such as drums and horns, announcing the arrival of the New Year to the people in cities and villages. Now, this announcement of the New Year’s moment transition is done through television.

Currently, Iranian families typically await the countdown from 10 to 1 on their television screens, signaling the start of the New Year (Nowruz). Immediately after the announcement of the New Year, family members rise from their seats, embrace each other, congratulate the new year, and exchange best wishes. Those who are geographically separated immediately after the New Year call or contact their parents and other elder family members, including aunts, uncles, and their spouses. 

13 Days of Nowruz

The Nowruz holidays last for 13 days, starting from Nowruz (New Year’s Day) and continuing until the 13th day of the new year. During these 13 days, schools and universities are closed. However, the official holidays for other sectors of society are usually for the first 3 or 4 days, and the last day of Nowruz, the 13th day, is also an official holiday.

A very sweet tradition, especially for many children, is the custom of receiving gifts or “Eidi”. In Iran, elders, especially adults, give some money as gifts to the younger ones, particularly children. The eldest member of the family brings a bundle of crisp banknotes, which is placed among the books of Shahnameh (the Persian epic) that are placed on the Haft Seen table and distributes it as Eidi to all family members. In this way, each elder gives money as a gift to the younger ones, especially to children.

13th Day of New Year picnic, Sizdah Bedar

On the 13th day of Nowruz, known as “Sizdah Bedar,” Iranians conclude their twelve days of celebration and joy, commemorating the twelve months of the year. On this day, families go outdoors and spend time in nature, picnicking and enjoying themselves. In essence, this marks the formal conclusion of the Nowruz period.

Sizdah Bedar
Sizdah Bedar

One of the rituals of this day is tying knots in the “sabzeh” (green sprouts). Tying knots in the sabzeh of the Haft Seen table symbolizes tying our lives with nature, wishing to remain evergreen and vibrant. Based on this, ancient Iranians believed that making a wish and tying knots in the sabzeh was a gift from nature to fulfill their desires and wishes, and for young people to find a life partner.

sabzeh
Sabzeh

The second ritual that people in Iran perform on the day of Sizdah Bedar is releasing the knotted sabzeh from the Haft Seen table into flowing water. In Iranian mythology, there is a goddess named “Anahita,” who is the goddess of water and is considered a symbol of blessings and abundance. When people release their sabzeh into flowing water, they seek a life full of blessings from this goddess of water.

kebabs
kebabs

Another tradition is setting up a fire and barbecue and cooking kebabs in nature, alongside some traditional foods of Sizdah Bedar. One of these traditional dishes is “Ash-e Reshteh,” which is prepared with a variety of herbs and legumes and is reminiscent of the gifts and blessings of nature due to its colorful appearance. Many will also eat kahoo and sekanjebin (lettuce and oxymel). Additionally, it is very common to snack on leftover nuts and dried fruits from the twelve days of Nowruz celebrations.

sekanjebin
sekanjebin

 

Happy Nowruz to all who celebrate!


 

I am Leila Rakhshan. I married my husband Fred ten years ago and came to America. I decided to become a mother and focus on raising our children after years of working in public relations for charitable and private organizations, freelancing as a multimedia writer, and teaching at the university level. I mostly endeavored to read, enjoy moments of my children’s growth, and engage in their childhood experiences.

Now that both my daughter and son are attending elementary school, I can begin writing again, much like the years before, and continue learning and sharing my experiences.

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