Nowruz – the Persian New Year – began at the spring equinox (March 21) and ended 13 days later. Dating back over 3000 years, with Zoroastrian origins, it’s celebrated as far west as the Balkans, across central central Asia and as far east as Afghanistan. It remains a Zoroastrian Holy Day despite being considered a secular holiday across many countries. They even have a Father Christmas like figure – Papa Nowruz – who also is the giver of gifts to children. Nowruz also features as one of the nine holy days for those that follow the Bahá’í Faith.
One of the wonderful traditions is the the Haft Sin table. Seven items that begin with the Persian letter ‘seen’ (or ‘s’) which represent new beginnings.
You will see Haft Sin table on display in homes, hotels, cafe’s, galleries, museums, just about everywhere.
They generally include (thanks to #wikipedia):
- Seeb (apple), represents beauty
- Seer (garlic), represents good health
- Serkeh (vinegar), represents patience
- Sonbol (hyacinth), represents spring
- Samanu (sweet pudding), represents fertility
- Sabzeh (sprouts), represents rebirth
- Sekeh (coins), represents prosperity
The Haft Sin can also include the spice sumac (representing sunrise), or sanjed (Persian Olive representing love). You’ll also find painted eggs (fertility), goldfish in a bowl (life), a mirror (self-reflection) and a copy of the Quran, or the Avesta (Zoroastrian holy book).
However in more secular households (certainly not public spaces like museums or galleries) you may see a table displaying a book that that speaks to many Iranians, a book of Persian poetry by one of their poetic giants, Hafez or Ferdowsi.
Following the 1979 Revolution, the Islamic government tried to extinguish Nowruz, considering it a pagan celebration. They failed. Iranians hang on to their Persian roots as fiercely as they display hospitality to strangers.
When I originally posted this on my Instagram account, it was 13th day of Nowruz (April 3rd), the day of Sizdah Bedar or Nature Day, a day for all Iranians to get outside and celebrate nature. Perhaps this is where they get their love of picnicking from. If picnicking were an Olympic sport, Iran would be Olympic champions – in perpetuity. I’ve seen them throw down a blanket on rocky creek banks, on a viewpoint parking lot on the edge of a mountain, and on lay-bys on major motorways.
But on the Nature Day, Iranians whether at home in Iran, or living abroad in London, Cologne or L.A. will get outside with friends and family, throw a blanket, grab some tea, break fresh bread and picnic!