Everything you need to know about Nowruz traditions, the Persian New Year (the first day of spring), from the food to the haft sin, plus ebook and video!
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 also proud of my Persian culture. I am lucky to be the mixed mutt that I am. I try not to think about how Iran has turned out politically, but choose to celebrate its beautiful traditions and delicious foods. Spring is a special time of year for Persians and many middle-easterners. Although it may not feel like it outside, Spring is around the corner. The first day of Spring falls on March 20th, the spring equinox. And the first day on the Iranian calendar (Nowruz/Norouz/Noruz) falls on the the first day of spring. This post is all about the wonderful Nowruz traditions, from the sofreh haft seen to the food!!
The celebration of Nowruz dates back 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 Nowruz would follow with the new year and spring, bringing with it the rebirth of of nature. Nowruz traditions and ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts: the End and the Rebirth; or Good versus Evil.
Many traditions are celebrated with Nowruz. 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 Nowruz.
Another important Nowruz tradition is the Sofreh Haft Seen, or the table setting of seven ‘S’s. Iranians prepare a setting on a cloth, table or tray that includes seven specific items starting with the letter ‘S’ (or Seen in the Persian alphabet).
The Sofreh Haft Seen can range in size, but the traditional 7 items that must be included 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 Seen are:
▪ Sonbol – Hyacinth (plant)
▪ Sekkeh – Coins – representative of wealth
▪ Traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
▪ Ajeel – dried nuts, berries and raisins
▪ 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)
▪ 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 omelette-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.
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 Nowruz or not, many await the arrival for Spring. And for those of you still buried in snow, winter is almost over!
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 Nowruz, in a beautifully photographed ebook. And it’s only $1.99! Learn more here!