While the majority of the world turns to television sets in the final minutes of December, a number of Middle Easterners and their descendants pair earthly revolutions with the onset of spring.
Known as Persian New Year to Eurocentric tongues, Nowruz (which translates to new day in Avestan), coincides with the vernal equinox. Rooted in Zoroastrianism, Nowruz persisted despite the rise of Islam and has been celebrated in modern-day Persia for more than 3,000 years. Today, the lunar new year is celebrated in Iran, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Tajikestan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as well as in European and North American cities that host members of the Iranian diaspora.
Nowruz celebrations typically begin a with a Chaharshanbeh suri or festival of fire, on the Tuesday night before the equinox (This year, fire festivities took place on March 14). Fire is a symbol of purification in Zoroastrianism, and jumping over small fires before the new year replaces negativity and illness with warmth and energy.
Zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man.
My yellow is yours, your red is mine.
Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty
Persians also prepare a Haft-Seen, an arrangement of seven symbolic items, to bring fortune. Each item—sprouts for rebirth, garlic for health, an apple for beauty, Samanu pudding for sweetness, vinegar for patience and sumac to honor the sunrise—starts with the Persian letter Seen (so it literally translates to “seven S’s”). The Haft-Seen is often accompanied by other items such as hyacinths, a mirror and a goldfish in a bowl. Persians “shake” or clean the house in anticipation of the new year and buy new clothes to welcome purification in style.
The eve of Nowruz typically involves a party (sometimes louder, with dancing and traditional tableside performances from inebriated relatives who cannot sing) and a feast of fortune. Sabzi polow (rice seasoned with dill and lima beans) and white fish are the quintessential Iranian Nowruz meal, although menus differ across nationalities and families.
The Persian calendar entered 1396 at 6:28:10 a.m. (time specificity is crucial) EST on March 20, and participants everywhere wished warmth upon those they hold dear. The new year itself brings a breather. Iranians, a populace pressed by restriction, is able to relax following Nowruz. Persians traditionally travel, often to visit relatives, in the post-Nowruz lull. Sizdah Be-dar, the 13th day after the new year—and the 13th of the first month, Farvardin—brings finality to the celebration. On this day, it’s custom to spend time outdoors, usually picnicking with family. If the goldfish accompanying Haft-Seens survive, this is the day they become free.
Families place the sprouts (Sabzeh) grown in the Haft-Seen into moving water, casting off the negativity absorbed during its presence. What was once twisted now becomes purified—for a moment, we are distanced from hatred and free to focus on what’s important: who we love and who we are.
Photo by Parmida Rahimi, CC BY
Sarra Sedghi is Paste Food’s and Paste Science’s assistant editor.