Learn Persian New Year (Norooz) Rituals!

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Norooz (Nowruz), in word, means “New Day”. It is the exact astronomical beginning of the spring in the northern hemisphere (note3). It usually falls on 20 or 21th of March.

This ancient festival is celebrated and observed by many people in Asia and Middle East, even in North-western China and Balkan.

Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called “Saal Tahvil” meaning “Year Delivered”. Norooz (Nowruz) with its unique Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrians (The religion of ancient Persia).

Iranians consider Nowruz as their biggest celebration of the year which includes a few days of public holiday and sometimes up to 2 weeks for schools.

Major New Year rituals include:

  • Cleaning the house (Khaane Tekaani – meaning home cleaning) before the New Year and buying new clothes!
  • Setting a special table (Haft Seen – meaning seven ‘S’) before the New Year. This table has 7 specific items on it starting with ‘S’ in Farsi (Persian language).
  • Fire Festival (“Chahar-shanbe Suri” – meaning feast of Wednesday) the night before the last Wednesday of the old year is celebrated by going into the streets to make bonfires, and jump over them.
  • The New Year moment (Saal Tahvil – meaning year delivered) is celebrated by music and kisses.
  • Parties and family gatherings after New Year
  • 13th day (Sizdah Bedar – meaning 13th day out) 13 days after the New Year is the outdoor and picnic day.

Now I explain these in short.

Haft Seen (7 Seen) Table:

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A special table laid with seven specific items on it. All the 7 (Haft in Farsi) items start with the letter “S” in Farsi. These seven things usually are:

  • sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
  • samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat– symbolizing affluence
  • senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love
  • sir – garlic – symbolizing medicine
  • sib – apples – symbolizing beauty and health
  • somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing the colour of sunrise
  • serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience

Other items on the table may include:

  • sekkeh – Coins – representative of wealth
  • lit candles – symbolizing enlightenment and happiness
  • Mirror – symbolizing cleanness and honesty
  • Decorated eggs, one for each member of the family – symbolizing fertility
  • A bowl of water with goldfish – symbolizing life
  • Traditional Iranian pastries and sweets
  • Dried nuts, berries and raisins
  • A holy book (Avesta, Quran, and/or a poetry book, Shahnameh or the book of Hafez)

Decorated with colourful ribbons, the 7 Seen table is kept for 13 days and then disposed outdoors.

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The New Year Moment:

People usually listen to radio or television at the moment of year change (saal tahvil) which is identified by a countdown or a cannon blast after which people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year.

Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins), usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets. Traditionally on the night before or after the New Year, most Iranians will have a special dish of fish and rice (Sabzi Polo Mahi).

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13th Day:

The 13th day of the New Year is called “Sizdah Bedar” meaning 13th day out and spent mostly outdoors. People go to the parks and the nature for a festive picnic. Also in this day, people throw the Sabze (the seeds grown in Haft Seen table) away.

Old Iranian culture regard number 13 as a bad omen and believe that by going out they avoid misfortunes.

Fire Festival:

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Another tradition before the New Year is “Chahar-Shanbe Suri”. It takes place at the night before the last Wednesday of the old year. People set up bon fires, young and old leap over the fires and sing special songs.

This festival is the celebration of the light (the good) winning over the darkness (the bad).

Notes:

  1. More information can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowruz
  2. Countdown to the New Year moment: http://www.7seen.com/
  3. For Persian calendar see KhayyamHejri Calendar and Jalali Calendar
  4. Photos in this page link to their original location
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