Happy Nowruz 2015!
Originating in ancient Persia, this holiday marks the first day of the spring equinox right down to the tee! Every year, the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator is determined, giving observers the exact time to start their celebrations.
Nowruz: A Persian New Year Celebration
The Persian word for “new day,” Nowruz marks the beginning of the new year in Iran and many other countries. This period of celebration and rejuvenation coincides with the vernal equinox and the first day of spring. When the sun crosses the celestial equator (the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere), the length of the day and night are the same.
This occasion was celebrated by major cultures in ancient Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BCE. It is rooted in Zoroastrianism, the religion of Iran before the founding of Islam. Today, people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, and Pakistan also participate in the thirteen days of Nowruz with their own local variations of festivities.
In Iranian communities people clean their home, get haircuts, and buy clothes in preparation for the new year. They set up and gather around the beautiful haft sin table, and they cook and enjoy special foods. Friends, families, and neighbors visit with one another and exchange gifts. Young people bring flowers, fruits, nuts, and pastries to adults, while parents and grandparents give their children crisp bills of money in return. As they have done for generations, families and friends celebrate the start of a new year and welcome the return of spring.
HAFT SIN TABLE
To celebrate the new year, families gather around a specially prepared holiday table to make wishes for the coming months. Items on the table refer to new life and renewal, and they are based around the number seven. Although the custom has evolved over the centuries and may have regional variations, at least seven basic items, each beginning with the letter s (sin in Persian), are traditionally placed on the haft sin table. Many of them also refer to the seven Zoroastrian immortals that guarded the sky, waters, earth, fire, plants, animals, and humans in ancient Iran.
- Sib (apples) fertility and beauty
- Sonbol (hyacinth) fragrance
- Serkeh (wine vinegar) immortality and eternity
- Senjed (wild olives) fertility and love
- Sabzeh (wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts growing in a dish) rebirth
- Samanu (wheat sprout pudding) sweetness
- Sekkeh (coins) wealth
Other symbols of good luck can also be placed on the table, such as:
- Garlic (seer), to bring good health
- A gold fish, to mark the the passage from Pisces to Aries
- A mirror, to reflect the light of wisdom and creation
- A brazier, to burn wild rue, a sacred herb, and to ward off evil spirits
- A book of poetry by the fourteenth-century writer Hafiz, whose poems are believed to predict the future
- Rose water, to purify and sweeten
- An orange floating in a bowl of water, to represent the earth floating in space
- Candles, to symbolize holy fire
- Decorated eggs, to represent fertility
- A copy of the Koran, to signify prayers
The ancient custom of a fire festival is another way to welcome the new year. Long ago, in an effort to ward off evil spirits, people lit bonfires and placed clay figurines of animals and ancestors on their rooftops. Today, children celebrate the last Tuesday night before Nowruz by singing and dancing, dressing up as ghosts, and banging spoons together as they trick-or-treat from door to door. They also jump over fire—an activity called chahar-shamba suri—to get rid of the troubles of the old year and to celebrate the victory of light over darkness.
The joyous figure of Haji Firuz appears each year during Nowruz festivities to celebrate the victory of light over darkness. Although his origins are uncertain, he might be associated with Domuzi, the ancient Sumerian god of sacrifice who died each winter and was reborn in the spring. Today Haji Firuz is always clad in red, and his dark face has come to symbolize the underworld. He welcomes the new year by dancing, singing, and making people laugh.