Nowruz is the Persian New Year. In Farsi, Nowruz translates as ‘New Day,’ with Now meaning ‘new’ and Ruz meaning ‘day.’
Nowruz is the day of the vernal or spring equinox, marking the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. It usually occurs on the 21st of March, or sometimes the day before or after this date, depending on where it is observed in the world. This is the first day of the first month, Farvardin, in the Iranian calendar.
Nowruz is primarily celebrated in Iran and Afghanistan, along with the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, as well as throughout Central Asia.
The celebration of Nowruz is steeped in ancient myths, traditions and symbols.
Preparations for the Nowruz celebrations begin weeks before. These include spring cleaning houses and the arrangement of the haft-seem (haft-sīn), which is a collection of seven items representing renewal and springtime. Seven is a sacred number in Zoroastrianism. The centrepiece of haft-seem is the sabzeh. Sabzeh is a plant (wheat, barley, mung bean or lentils) that is grown in a dish. This sprouting plant represents rebirth.
After a couple of weeks, when the plant starts to sprout, the dish is placed on the haft-seem table. This table is the focus of Nowruz observance. Sabzeh is joined by six other symbolic items starting with the Persian letter "seen" or S. They include:
an apple (sib), which represents health
dried fruit (senjed) or sea-buckthorn, which represents wisdom
alcohol (saraab), which symbolises a long and happy life, disinfection, satisfaction and stress reduction
garlic (seer), a symbol of stimulation and medicine
berries (somaq or sumac) a symbol of prosperity
sweet pudding (samanu) a sweet paste made from germinated wheat, representing fertility
Many traditions include the placement of extra items on the table; live goldfish to symbolise new life, mirrors to reflect the year that has passed by and candles to represent light and happiness.
It is a tradition during this time to eat Sumalak, which is a thick pudding made from wheatgrass. The traditional preparation takes 24 hours, as women sing folk songs while stirring huge pots.
On the Tuesday evening before Nowruz is the celebration of Chaharshanbeh Soori. Chaharshanbeh translates as ‘Wednesday’ and Soori translates as both ‘red’ and ‘celebration.’ An array of bonfires are lit around the city and villages and remain lit until Wednesday. This celebration represents the symbolic burning of all that was negative in the previous year, whilst looking forward to a new beginning.
In places like Azerbaijan, where preparations for Nowruz often begin a month earlier, each Tuesday one of the four elements (water, fire, earth and wind) is celebrated.
During the celebrations of Nowruz, the focus is on spending time with family, friends and also visiting and tending the graves of relatives.
Celebrations include traditional feasts, picnicking, music performances, poetry readings and bonfires. Because of bonfire traditions, many celebrations and rituals take place in the evening with firecrackers and fireworks, along with jumping over bonfires. Whilst jumping over bonfires, the song; ‘my yellow is yours, your red is mine,’ is sung and symbolises how the fire takes away the yellow of sickness and gives back the red of health and warmth.
In Iran, the Nowruz holiday lasts thirteen days. On the thirteenth day of Nowruz, Iranians connect with nature and the land and picnic outdoors as part of the Sizdah Bedar ceremony, which is also known as ‘Nature’s Day.’
There is also qashoq zani, which is when children bang spoons on cooking pots and knock on neighbour’s doors to receive sweets.
Therefore, Nowruz is an important and joyous time in the Persian calendar, where special time is spent with loved ones during celebrations of positivity, light and traditional symbolism.
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