As many of you know, I am half-Iranian. I have lived in the U.S. most of my life, I act like a proud American, but I am proud of my Persian culture. I try not to think about how Iran has turned out politically, but choose to celebrate its glorious traditions and delicious foods. Spring is a special time of year for Perisans and many middle-easterners. Although it may not feel like it outside, Spring is around the corner. The first day of Spring this year falls on March 20th. And the first day on the Iranian calendar (Norouz) falls on the the first day of spring. So consider today’s post a brief history lesson!
The celebration of Norouz dates over 3000 years ago during the Zorastrian rule of the Persian Empire. The Zorastrians had many festivals, one falling at the end of the solar year. It was called Farvardgan and was thought to be the festival of sorrow and mourning. The festival of Norouz would follow with the new year and spring, bringing with it the rebirth of of nature. Norouz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts: the End and the Rebirth; or Good versus Evil.
Many traditions are celebrated with Norouz. One is the familiar tradition of spring cleaning. Several weeks before the new year, Iranians clean their homes thoroughly. If new furniture is to be purchased or if the home is to be remodeled, it is usually finished in time for Norouz.
Another important tradition is the Haft Sīn or the seven ‘S’s. Iranians prepare a table that includes seven specific items starting with the letter ‘S’ (or Sīn in the persian alphabet). The Haft Sīn can range in size and items are:
▪ sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
▪ samanoo – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence
▪ senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love
▪ seer – garlic – symbolizing medicine
▪ seeb – apples – symbolizing beauty and health
▪ sumaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
▪ serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience
Other items commonly found on the Haft Sīn are:
▪ Sonbol – Hyacinth (plant)
▪ Sekkeh – Coins – representative of wealth
▪ traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
▪ Ajeel – 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 (symbolizing life)
▪ rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
▪ a bowl with a sour orange (symbolizing the world floating in space-time)
▪ seven branches from gnarled trees (olive and pomegranate) (symbolizes our life’s passage)
▪ a holy book (from the household’s particular religion)
▪ and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnama or the Divan of Hafez)
Chahârshanbe Sûrî is the night before the last Wednesday of the year. This festival is the celebration of the light (the good) winning over the darkness (the bad).Iranians make bonfires in the streets or in their yard and jump over them, shouting: “Sorkhi to az man or zardie man az to!” (“ Give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly yellow pallor.”). Families get together and serve different kinds of pastries and Ajeel.
For New Year’s day, Iranians purify themselves by bathing and putting on new clothes. Families get together and share traditional meals, such as:
▪ Sabzi Polo Mahi: The main course is usually rice with green herbs served with fish. Fish has long symbolized life and good luck and green is the color symbolizing fruitfulness.
▪ Ash-e Reshteh: A hearty soup cooked with noodles, which is said to symbolically help one succeed in life.
▪ Kookoo-ye sabzi : An omlete-like souffle made with herbs and green vegetables. It is believed that eating kookoo-ye sabzi it will bring prosperity and happiness in the year to come.
▪ Reshteh Polo : a rice dish cooked with noodles.
I will highlight these dishes more in the coming weeks.
Sizdah Bedar falls on the thirteenth day of the new year. This is a day of where everyone celebrates outside in the open, typically including family picnics. At the end of the celebrations on this day, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Sīn (which has symbolically collected all sickness and bad luck) is thrown into running water to eliminate any evil from the household.
So, whether you celebrate Noruz or not, many await the arrival for Spring. And for those of you still buried in snow, we officially have 16 days until the first day of Spring!
Want to learn more about Norouz and the Persian New Year? I have put together an ebook that has all the history, traditions and recipes of Norouz, in a beautifully photographed ebook. And it’s only $1.99! Learn more here!