After what seemed like an endless winter, it is finally spring! Sure it’s only 34 degrees in Chicago right now, but the sun is shining and warmer weather is on the way. I loved seeing photos of flowers and other springtime sights around the world this weekend on Instagram, and I especially loved seeing my Persian friends wishing each other a happy Nowruz.
Nowruz, which translates to “new day,” is the Persian New Year, celebrated around the world by Iranians and some others. The 13-day Nowruz festival kicks off at the stroke of the vernal equinox, which was on the morning of March 20 this year. On this day, Iranians gather around the haftseen, a ceremonial table. In Persian, haft means seven, which is considered a lucky number, and the table is decorated with seven items all starting with the letter sin, or ‘s’, and symbolizing spring and renewal.
Those seven items are:
Seeb, an apple, which symbolizes beauty
Seer, garlic, representing health
Serkeh, vinegar, symbolizing patience
Sonbol, hyacinth, representing spring
Samanu, a type of pudding, symbolizing fertility or affluence
Sabzeh, wheat or barley sprouts, representing rebirth
Sekeh, coins, symbolizing prosperity
Often, there are additions like senjed (a dried lotus tree fruit) to symbolize love, or sumac berries which represent good conquering evil. Aside from the ‘s’ items, families will add a Quran, a mirror to reflect into the future, painted eggs, sweets, fruit, and even a goldfish in a bowl of water, which represents life.
Other elements of Nowruz include a spring cleaning and visiting friends and family.
So why am I so excited about Nowruz, even though I’m not Persian? I studied Persian language in college for four years, and have many Persian friends, so I’ve been lucky to have the chance to join in on their celebrations from time to time.
One fun tradition I got to participate in a few years ago is Chaharshanbe Suri, a ‘fire festival’ that occurs the night before the last Wednesday of the Iranian calendar, and celebrates light, or good, winning over darkness. Basically, you make a bonfire and jump over it while saying “Zardiye man az to, sorkhiye to az man,” which means “My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine,” or more figuratively means “My pain/weakness for you, your strength and health for me.” (Because you’re saying this to the fire as you jump over it, it makes sense). The fire is meant to burn out all of the fear, pain, or weakness in a person’s spirit, and ignite it with strength and health for the new year.
Of course, the best part of any holiday is the food, and Nowruz is reason for a giant feast. Traditional Nowruz dishes include a noodle soup (the tangled noodles represent life’s possibilities, and untangling them brings good luck); sabzi polo a rice and green vegetable dish served with fish; kookoo sabzi, a rice and vegetable soufflé; baklava; noghi (candied almonds); and more.
To see how some people celebrated Nowruz around the world this year, click here. (If you’re interested in the history of Nowruz in Afghanistan, and how conservative clerics are now trying to discourage the celebrations, read this article).
Even Obama joined in wishing Persians a happy Nowruz! You can see his video message here.
I hope you all have a happy start to spring, and if you’re celebrating Nowruz, Eide Shoma Mobarak!