Coinciding each year with the vernal equinox, the festival Norooz marks the start of the Persian New Year. Norooz is celebrated at the exact moment the spring season commences in the Western Hemisphere, and the word itself translates to “new” (no) “day” (rooz). This time-honored celebration of nature’s rebirth lasts for two weeks and features a number of cherished traditions, many of which have roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic faith. Norooz traditions include:
Khooneh Takooni, literally meaning “shaking the house,” is the same as spring cleaning in western traditions. It begins in the weeks leading up to Norooz. Families engage in a deep cleaning of their home, as well as repairing furniture and fixtures, in preparation for the new year to begin.
Chahaar Shanbeh Soori
On the Wednesday before Norooz, house-cleaning gives way to cleansing of a more spiritual nature, known as chahaar shanbeh soori. This process involves jumping over a fire pit while chanting a variation of the rhyme: “Give me your beautiful red color; and take back my sickly pallor.” The light of these bonfires is meant to usher in enlightenment and happiness in the new year.
The Haft Seen
In the final days leading up to Norooz, people set up the ceremonial Haft-Seen table, which customarily includes items that represent people’s hopes for what the new year will bring. The most common of these items are:
-Sabzeh, or sprouts, for rebirth
-Samanu, or sweet pudding, for fertility
-Seeb, or apple, for beauty
-Seer, or garlic, for good health
-Sekkeh, or coins, for prosperity
-Serkeh, or vinegar, for patience and wisdom
-Somaq, or sumac berries, representing the sunrise
-Sonbol, or hyacinth flowers, representing spring
-Senjed, a dried fruit of the lotus tree, for love
Additional items that appear on many Haft-Seen tables are a book of inspiration, a bowl of goldfish, a mirror, painted eggs, and various sweets and fruits.
Sal e Tahveel
After chahaar shanbeh soori, families and friends gather to wait for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs. As the final countdown ushers in the new year, loved ones share the moment no matter what time of the day or night. Elders distribute sweets and children receive monetary gifts. Depending on the time of day, people enjoy a traditional meal that often includes basmati rice with herbs, fried white fish, smoked fish, the egg-based dish kuku (an herb filled dish similar to a frittata or open-faced omelette), and narenj, or sweet and sour orange.
With the arrival of the new year comes a tradition of holiday visitations, or Eid Didani. During the 13 days of Norooz, people are expected to pay visits to nearby elders, enjoying refreshments and a brief chat, and perhaps arriving with flowers or other small gift. To pay the utmost respect to a loved one, visit them on the first day of the new year.
The 13th day of the new year marks an end to the celebrations. To welcome a new beginning, people engage in outdoor activities, such as picnics. Often, they bring with them the sprouts (sabzeh) from the Haft-Seen table. The symbolic throwing of the sabzeh into flowing water is thought to let go of past misfortune and usher in a fresh start.