The Persian New Year
Last Saturday was Nowruz. It means “new day” in Persian and is celebrated at the spring equinox – March 21 – in the northern hemisphere. It dates back over 3000 years, with its roots in the Zoroastrian faith – possibly the world’s oldest religion – and is celebrated as far west as the Balkans, across central Asia and into Afghanistan.
It’s seen as a time of forgiveness and healing, an opportunity for renewal and reconnection. In the days and weeks before the arrival of Nowruz, Iranians will do a spring clean of their homes – also known as ‘shaking the house’ – as well as throwing out or donating old clothes. They’ll then shop for new clothes and gifts to welcome in their New Year – a bit like Xmas shopping in Australia or the UK.
During the Nowruz holidays Iranians will visit family, friends and neighbours. The holidays end 13 days later with Sizdah Bedar or Nature Day. On this day they will go outside, celebrate nature and picnic. If picnicking were an Olympic sport, Iran would be Olympic champions. They will throw down a blanket on rocky creek banks, in parking lots on the edge of a mountain, or at a lay-by beside a motorway.
One of their wonderful traditions is the Haft Sin table. Seven – ‘haft’ in Persian – items that each begin with the Persian letter for ‘s’ or ‘seen’ which represent new beginnings. You will see these tables in homes, hotels, cafe’s, galleries, museums, just about everywhere.
They generally include:
- Seeb (apple), represents beauty
- Seer (garlic), represents good health
- Serkeh (vinegar), represents patience
- Sonbol (hyacinth), represents spring
- Samanu (sweet pudding), represents fertility
- Sabzeh (sprouts, wheat, barley), 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 (fertliltiy), goldfish in a bowl (life), a mirror (self-reflection) and a copy of the Quran, or the Avesta (Zoroastrian holy book) or perhaps a book of poetry by one of the Persian literary giants, Hafez or Ferdowsi.
Curiously, they also have a Father Christmas like figure known as Papa Nowruz.
I spent a month in Iran in 2018. I could easily have spent three. The history and culture apart, it was the wonderful warmth and kindness of the locals that really made Iran special. It’s still one of my favourite countries to visit and I want to return.
So, to all my Iranian friends I wish you a very happy, safe and prosperous Nowruz for 2021.