Nowruz (Nouruz/Nowrooz/Norooz), the Persian New Year, falls on the first day of spring of the solar calendar (which is different from the Gregorian solar calendar). Nowruz is a festivity that transcends religions as it is not confined to any one religious group–it is celebrated in many countries globally including Iran, Central Asia, Turkey and in other traditional Persian communities found throughout the world. It involves a meal with relatives and friends, gift exchanges, fireworks and lots of celebratory fun.
Even though the lunar calendar is used for Muslim festivals and holidays across Iran, Nowruz follows the solar calendar, which was adopted in ancient times by the Zoroastrians. Celebrated for at least 3,000 years, Nowruz dates back to Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions. While Nowruz customs and traditions have evolved over time, the spirit of Nowruz remains the same.
The celebration lasts 13 days and begins in early March. To start off, it is traditional to grow sprouts from lentils, wheat, or barley seeds and thoroughly clean the house. The sprouting of the seeds is a remnant from ancient times when agrarian tribes celebrated the change of seasons. Cleaning is symbolic of keeping evil away and families open up all the windows, which most of the houses kept closed during the winter. After cleaning comes the shopping.
On Nowruz, everyone receives new clothes and buys certain items in preparation for the Haft Sin (the seven ‘S’s) table. Seven items beginning with the Persian letter “s” (sin) or “sh” (shin), which represent spring, are placed on the table. In former times, the table was called the Haft chin, but with the introduction of Islam (as Arabic has no sound for “ch”), it changed to the seven ‘S’s. The seven ‘S’s include:
Vinegar (serkeh, symbolizing age and patience–this item was formerly wine in ancient Persia, before the introduction of Islam)
Garlic (sir, symbolizing medicine)
Apple (sib, symbolizing beauty and health)
A certain type of dried fruit (senjed, symbolizing love)
Sumac fruit (somāq, symbolizing the color of sunrise)
Sprouted wheat, barley or lentils (sabzah, symbolizing rebirth)
Sweet pudding/paste (samanu, symbolizing affluence)
Additional items that may be displayed include: a mirror, candles, a bowl of water with live gold fish (mahi, symbolizing life), flowers, Iranian pastries, fruits, coins (sekeh, representing prosperity and wealth), special bread (sangak), and colorfully painted eggs, similar to Easter eggs (symbolizing fertility).
As part of the festivities, children visit their neighbors’ houses in disguise. The disguise is usually something like a veil covering the entire body. Each child carries an empty metal bowl and a metal spoon which they bang on when the neighbor answers the door. Part of the tradition is the kids remain silent, except for their spoons and bowls, and anonymous throughout the process.
On New Year’s Eve, people assemble around bonfires to celebrate and each member of the family jumps over the fire while chanting, “Sorkhi-e to az man, zardi-e man az to,” meaning give me your beautiful red color and take back my wintry, sallow complexion. Jumping over the fire represents the desire for health and happiness in the New Year by cleansing the body of illness and bad feelings. After the fire, friends and family gather and children listen to stories.
At the moment the New Year arrives, everybody kisses on the cheek or gives gifts, usually money (a bank note or a coin). Traditional foods are sabzi polo, a meal of rice, herbs and usually fish. In our recipes section, we have a kid-friendly version of this dish.
On the 13th and final day of Nowruz, Sizdah Bedar, people head outdoors for a picnic in the countryside. One of the popular traditions of Sizdah Bedar is unmarried girls knot blades of grass in the hope to be married soon and to express their desire for good fortune in life and love.