The Persian New Year begins on the first day of Spring, which in 2015 is on March 20th. It is called Norooz, which stands for New Day. Though its origin goes back to the faith of Zoroastrians, this day has been celebrated for over three thousand years, by almost every Iranian, as well as by other countries that have been influenced by this Persian tradition over the centuries. It is considered a secular holiday, and therefore religion and ethnicity differences are put aside during this time of celebration.
Celebrating Norooz is elaborate and takes a lot of preparation. The New Year is celebrated for almost two weeks. During that time schools and colleges are closed. Companies and businesses take it easy as well. People start a few weeks earlier with spring cleaning and beautifying their homes for guests and visitors. Streets are bustling with shoppers. Stores are filled with flowers, fresh fruit, fish and a lot more.
On the first day of Spring, family members gather around a decorated table that traditionally displays seven items all starting with the letter S. This table setting is knows as Haft Seen (7 S’s). Among the seven items on the table are Sib (apple), which is the symbol of beauty, Sir (garlic), a symbol of health, Serkeh (vinegar), a symbol of patience, and Sekeh (coins), a symbol of wealth. While gathered in front of the Haft Seen, everybody waits for the exact moment of the vernal equinox, which is announced quite dramatically on the TV and radio. Then everybody hugs and kisses and wishes each other a Happy New Year.
Shortly after the official announcement of the arrival of Norooz, the streets that were empty just a few minutes ago get jammed with traffic. It is time to visit each other. Visiting, which is very important during this time, starts with the most elderly persons in the family. The youngest will be visited last but usually before the official ending of the holidays. During visits, the older people present the younger ones with brand new bank notes or other gifts. Like in every fun celebration, there is a lot of food involved. Fruit and sweets are always offered to the Norooz visitors. The traditional dinner for Norooz is Sabzi Polo va Mahi which is basically a rice dish with white fish. Since it is considered a new beginning, many people also buy new clothes and wear them for the holidays.
After 12 days of tireless celebration, the 13th day is considered a day that has to be spent outdoors to avoid bad luck for the rest of the year. Once again, family members and friends get into their cars and drive to the outskirts of the cities and picnic there for the whole day. Among other customary habits, on that day, young women who want to get married will tie grass leaves together and wish for a husband in the New Year.
This year the March equinox happens at 6:45 pm Eastern time. Happy Spring and Happy Norooz!
Further readings from the library:
Zoroastrianism: an introduction by Jenny Rose (2011)
The Persians by Gene R. Garthwaite (2005)