“Persian New Year” – (Norooz, Nowruz) & the Rebirth of Nature!
Norooz is one of the most ancient celebrations in the history which has been celebrated for more than 3000 years.
(PERSIAN NEW YEAR)
Norooz – is one of the most ancient celebrations in the history which has been celebrated for more than 3000 years; in what is now Iran and in the extended cultural area known as Greater Iran. The oldest evidence of Norooz celebration is from the Achaemenid period over 2,500 years ago.
After the downfall of the Caliphate and re-emersion of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Persian New Year was turned into an even more important celebration.
Persian dynasties revived and restored many ancient Persian traditions and celebrations. Even at the time of Turkish and Mongol ruling over Iran, they actually adopted the tradition and celebrated Norooz.
Norooz is celebrated and observed principally in Iran and has spread in many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, Caucasus, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans.
13 Days Celebraton
Norooz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed.
The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.
The Spring Equinox
The first day on the Iranian calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring, around 20 March.
The Iranian calendar is based on the Sasanian solar calendar which was perfected by the famous poet and mathematician, Omar Khayyam. It is known as one of the most accurate calendars in existence today. At the time of the equinox, the sun is observed to be directly over the equator and the north and south poles of the earth lie along the solar terminator; sunlight is evenly divided between the north and south hemispheres.
Norooz and Its Origin
Originally being a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all, Norooz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, although there is no clear date of origin. Like most of the Zoroastrian traditions and celebrations, Norooz focuses on the philosophical aspects of light overcoming darkness, good overcoming evil, the warmth of spring overcoming the cold winter.
Norooz also has a root in the Persian mythology.
Base on ancient mythical tales the Persian epic book of Kings (Shahnameh), Nowruz was founded by the king named Jamshid.
After Jamshid defeated the evil demons and became the king and ruler of everything on earth.
The Meaning of Norooz
The term Norooz is a Persian compound-word and consists of:
- ● “No” which means “new” and has the following cognates, in English new, in Latin novus, German neu, Sanskrit nava, Croatian nova etc.
- ● “Rooz” which means “day”.
The Correct Spelling of Norooz
The correct spelling is Norooz, however, in different ethnic and religious groups worldwide:
Norooz is sometimes spelled as:
Also a variety of spelling variations for the word “Norooz” exist in English-language usage.
- ● Random House (unabridged) provides the spelling “nowruz”.
- ● Merriam-Webster (2006) recognizes only the spelling “nauruz”
- ● In the USA, many respected figures in the field of language such as Dr. Yarshater at Columbia University have suggested to use “Nowruz”.
“Norooz”, Recognized by the UN General Assembly
The UN’s General Assembly recognized the International Day of Norooz in 2010, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. In response to the UN recognition, Iran unveiled a postage stamp. The stamp was made public during the first International Norooz Celebrations in Tehran on Saturday, 27 March 2010.
Countries that Celebrate Norooz
Norooz is celebrated in Greater Iran, Caucasus, and Central Asia and by Iranians worldwide. It is a public holiday in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and India (by Iranis or Parsis), Albania, Kazakhstan and some other countries. Also the Canadian parliament by unanimous consent has passed a bill to add Nowruz to the national calendar of Canada, on March 30, 2009.
Norooz’s History and Tradition
The celebration has its roots in Ancient Iran. Due to its antiquity, there exist various foundation myths for Nowruz in Iranian mythology.
Norooz, a Zoroastrian Tradition
Norooz is rooted back to Persian religions such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism!
In Mithraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the Sun’s light. In the Zoroastrian tradition, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambars and Norooz, which occurs at the spring equinox. Norooz highlights the basic contrasts of good and bad.
Between sunset of the day of the 6th Gahanbar and sunrise of Norooz was celebrated Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan). This and the Gahanbar are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.
The Shahnameh and Norooz
The Shahnameh dates Norooz as far back to the reign of Jamshid, who in Zoroastrian texts saved mankind from a killer winter that was destined to kill every living creature.
The mythical Persian King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) perhaps symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. In the Shahnameh and Iranian mythology, he is credited with the foundation of Norooz.
The Most Important Holiday in Iran… Norooz
Hajji Firuz is the traditional herald of Norooz!
He oversees celebrations for the New Year perhaps as a remnant of the ancient Zoroastrian fire-keeper. His face is painted black (black is an ancient Persian symbol of good luck) and wears a red costume.
Then he sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading good cheer and heralds the coming of the New Year.
Hajji Firuz represents the fire keepers in Zoroastrian tradition that used to dress in red. The fire keeper’s second duty was to call on the people to burn their old objects in the fire and to renew their life which is the fundamental message of Norooz.
They believed by doing so they would regain health and remove the evil spirit. The dark color of the fire keeper’s face is apparently caused by the heat of the holy fire.
Spring Cleaning Before Norooz
Spring cleaning or Khouneh Tekouni (literally means ‘shaking the house’) or ‘complete cleaning of the house’ is commonly performed before Norooz.
The house cleaning customs symbolizes the removal of evil spirit from home and preparing a clean home to welcome the spirits of their beloved ones who had passed away.
Persians and other Indo-Iranian groups (Kurds, Azarbaijanis and Balochs) start preparing for the Norooz with a major spring-cleaning of their houses and the purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year and the purchase of flowers (in particular the hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous).
People start getting ready for Norooz about one month in advance!
Every Iranian family starts ridding and decluttering their homes of any unnecessary items and donating some items to the local charity or people in need.
People take dust away from walls, floors, household stuff, etc. They also wash vessels, clothes, curtains, carpets and walls. In association with the “rebirth of nature”, extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. This is also extended to personal attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes.
After the announcement of New Year, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year.
On the New Year’s Day, families dress in their new clothes and start the twelve-day celebrations by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. On the thirteenth day families leave their homes and picnic outdoors, as part of the Sizdah Be-dar ceremony.
Visiting Family & Friends – During Norooz
During the Norooz holidays, people are expected to visit one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbors) in the form of short house visits, which are usually reciprocated.
Typically, on the first day of Norooz, family members gather around the table, with the Haft Seen on the table or set next to it, and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged.
Later in the day, the first house visits are paid to the most senior family members. Typically, the youth will visit the elders first, and the elders return their visit later. When in previous year, a family member is deceased the tradition is to visit that family first (among the elders). The visits naturally have to be relatively short otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on their list. A typical visit is around 30 minutes, where you often run into other visiting relatives and friends who happen to be paying a visit to the same house at that time. Because of the house visits, you make sure you have a sufficient supply of pastry, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and special nuts on hand, as you typically serve your visitors with these items with tea or sherbet.
Chaharshanbeh Suri is the night before the last Wednesday of the year and is celebrated by Iranians as Chaharshanbeh Suri!
“Sur” meaning is feast, party or festival in Persian. Chaharshanbeh meaning is Wednesday in Persian.
This festival is the celebration of the light (the good) and its winning over the darkness (the bad). The symbolism behind the rituals is all rooted back to Zoroastrianism.
The tradition includes people going into the streets and alleys to make bonfires, and jump over them while singing the traditional song:
Zardi-ye man az (ane) to, sorkhi-ye to az (ane) man
(“az-ane to” means belongs to you);
This literally translates to “My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine,” with the figurative message “My paleness (pain, sickness) for you (the fire), your strength (health) for me.”
The fire is believed to burn out all the fear (yellowness) in their subconscious or their spirit, in preparation for New Year.
Serving different kinds of pastry and nuts known as Ajil-e Moshkel-Goshā which means problem-solving nuts, is the Chaharshanbeh Suri way of giving thanks for the previous year’s health and happiness, while exchanging any remaining paleness and evil for the warmth and vibrancy of the fire.
The Ajil consists of pistachios, roasted chick peas, almond, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins. On this day, Iranians also cook Ash e Reshteh (Noodle and Bean Soup) and give it to their neighbors. This soup is made with reshteh (Iranian noodles), onion, chickpeas, pinto beans, lentils and different herbs.
Many children run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons and knocking on doors to ask for treats. The ritual is called ghashogh-zani (spoon beating) and symbolizes the beating out of the last unlucky Wednesday of the year (something similar to Trick-or-treating).
People that made wishes, would stand at the corner of an alley or hide behind the walls and listen to conversation of by passers. If there is anything positive and optimistic in the conversation, they take that as a good sign and believe the wish will come true or there is good fortune to be expected.
If negative words were heard, they wouldn’t reach their goals and their wishes wouldn’t come true. This is called Fal-Gush meaning ‘listening to one’s conversation’ or eavesdropping.
More Traditions for Norooz
There are several other traditions, including:
- ● The rituals of Kuze Shekastan, the breaking of earthen jars which symbolically hold one’s bad fortune;
- ● The ritual of Fal-Gush, or inferring one’s future from the conversations of those passing by;
- ● and the ritual of Gereh-goshai, making a knot in the corner of a handkerchief or garment and asking the first passerby to unravel it in order to remove ones misfortune.
Norooz – Table Setting or Haft Sin, or 7s
Haft Sin or the Seven ‘S’s is a major traditional table setting of Norooz, the traditional Iranian spring celebration. The haft sin table includes seven items starting with the letter ‘S’ or Sin in the Persian alphabet. The items originally represented seven of the Zoroastrian yazatas or divinities including atar and asman.
The custom and the traditional practice of Haft Sin have been changed over the past millennium. The term was initially referred to as Haft Chin.
The word Haft Chin is derived from the word “Chin” meaning “to place” and “Haft“, the number 7.
The items originally represented seven of the Zoroastrian yazatas or divinities including ātar and asman. The haft sin table includes seven items starting with the letter ‘S’ or Sin in the Persian alphabet. The items originally represented seven of the Zoroastrian yazatas or divinities including atar and asman.
“Haft Chin” items
The “Haft Chin” items are:
- ● Mirror – symbolizing Sky
- ● Apple – symbolizing Earth
- ● Candles – symbolizing Fire
- ● Golab – Rose water symbolizing Water
- ● Sabzeh – Wheat or barley sprouts symbolizing Plants. Iranians plant these seeds about 2 or 3 weeks before Nowruz at small plates or vessels.
- ● Goldfish – symbolizing Animals
- ● Painted Eggs – symbolizing Humans and Fertility
“Haft Sin” items
The Haft Sin items are:
- ● Sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
- ● Samanu – a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat – symbolizing affluence
- ● Senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love
- ● Sir – garlic – symbolizing medicine
- ● Sib – apples (mostly red ones) – symbolizing beauty and health
- ● Somagh – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
- ● Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience
“Haft Sin” Replacements
Other items on the table may include:
- ● Sonbol – Hyacinth (plant)
- ● Sekkeh – Coins – representative of wealth
- ● Traditional Iranian pastries – such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
- ● Aajeel– dried nuts, berries and raisins
- ● Lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
- ● A mirror (symbolizing cleanness and honesty)
- ● Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family (fertility)
- ● A bowl of water with goldfish in it (life within life and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving). As an essential object of the Nowruz table, this goldfish is also “very ancient and meaningful” and with Zoroastrian connection.
- ● Rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
- ● The national colors for a patriotic touch
- ● A holy book (e.g., the Avesta, Quran, or Ketab e Moghadas) and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafez)
Dishes Made During Norooz
- ● Sabzi Polo Mahi: The New Year’s Day traditional meal is called Sabzi Polo Mahi, which is rice with green herbs served with fish. The traditional seasoning for Sabzi Polo is parsley, coriander, chives, dill and fenugreek.
- ● Reshteh Polo: rice cooked with noodles which is said to symbolically help one succeed in life.
- ● Dolme Barg: A traditional dish of Azeri people, cooked just before the new year. It includes some vegetables, meat and rice which have been cooked and embedded in grape leaves and cooked again. It is considered useful in reaching to wishes.
- ● Kookoo sabzi: Herbs and vegetable souffle, traditionally served for dinner at New Year. A light and fluffy omelet style made from parsley, dill, coriander, spinach, spring onion ends, and chives, mixed with eggs and walnut.
- ● Norooz Koje: A traditional New Year’s dish of the Kazakh people, which includes water, meat, salt, flour, cereal, and milk; symbolizing joy, luck, wisdom, health, wealth, growth, and heavenly protection.
“Sizdah Bedar” also known as Nature’s Day
The thirteenth day of the New Year festival is Sizdah Bedar (literally meaning “passing the thirteenth day”, figuratively meaning “Passing the bad luck of the thirteenth day”).
This is a day of festivity in the open, often accompanied by music and dancing, usually at family picnics. Sizdah bedar celebrations stem from the ancient Persians’ belief that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for a thousand years at the end of which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Hence Norooz lasts twelve days and the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos when families put order aside and avoid the bad luck associated with the number thirteen by going outdoors and having picnics and parties.
“Sizdah Bedar” Traditions
It is the day that people leave their houses and goes out in order to enjoy the nature. At the end of the celebrations on this day, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Seen (which has symbolically collected all sickness and bad luck) is thrown into running water to exorcise the demons (divs) from the household.
It is also customary for young single women to tie the leaves of the sabzeh before discarding it, so expressing a wish to be married before the next year’s Sizdah Bedar. Another tradition associated with this day is Doroogh-e Sizdah, literally meaning “the lie of the thirteenth”, which is the process of lying to someone and making them believe it or pranking them (similar to April Fools’ Day)!
It is custom to give money or gold (also gold coins) during Norooz.
However, any gift can be given to one another, gifts such as perfumes, calendars, books and more. These gifts are called Eydi and usually are given by adults to the kids or any younger member of the family.