The Persian New Year begins on the first day of Spring, which falls on March 20th this year. It is called Norooz, which translates roughly into 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.
In preparation for Norooz, family members gather around a decorated table that traditionally displays seven items all starting with the letter S. This table setting is known as Haft Seen (7 S’s). Some of the seven items on the table are Sib (apple) symbol of beauty, Sir (garlic), a symbol of health, Serkeh (vinegar) symbol of patience, and Sekeh (coins) symbol of wealth. While gathered in front of the Haft Seen in their homes, every family counts down to the exact moment (up to the millisecond!) of the taking place of the vernal equinox, which is announced quite dramatically on the TV and radio.
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 family and friends, and celebrate the arrival of spring and the new year! Visiting is very important during this time, and it 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 members of the families present the younger ones with brand new bank notes and other gifts. Like in every fun celebration, there is a lot of food involved. Fruit and sweets are always offered to Norooz visitors. The traditional dinner for Norooz is “Sabzi Polo va Mahi” which is dill rice with white fish. Since it is considered a new beginning, many people also wear new clothes and shoes 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. This time, family members and friends drive to the outskirts of the cities to picnic for the whole day enjoying the fresh days of spring while playing games and of course eating lots of delicious food. Among other customary habits, on that day, young women who wish to get married will tie grass leaves together and read a poem asking for a good husband.
This year the March equinox is at 5:58 pm Eastern time. Happy Spring and Happy Norooz!
This article has been revised and updated. Contributed by Sara Tabaei, Midtown Library
Further readings from the library:
Zoroastrianism: an introduction by Jenny Rose (2011)
The Persians by Gene R. Garthwaite (2005)