Learn About Norooz (the Persian New Year)

If you’ve been to a Persian restaurant or friend’s house within the last few weeks, you might have noticed a table with colorful springtime objects on it. You might have even been invited to a Norooz (or Nowruz) party. That could only mean one thing: it’s time to celebrate the Persian New Year!

Norooz (also spelled Nowruz, and literally meaning “New Day”) marks both the beginning of Spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. Each year on the March equinox, usually around 3/21, Iranian and Indo-Iranian families get together and celebrate this season of rebirth and good luck.

While every family and every cultural group celebrates Norooz in their own unique way, no Norooz celebration is complete without the following traditions:

Spring Cleaning: Also known as Khouneh Tekouni (or literally, ‘shaking the house’), a thorough spring cleaning of the entire house is not only a way to prepare for company, but symbolizes a fresh start. Many Iranians decorate their clean house with fresh flowers (usually tulips or hyacinth), and buy new clothes during this time. (As if you need an excuse to buy new clothes!)

Fire Jumping Traditions (Chahar Shanbe Suri): On the night of the last Wednesday before New Year’s, people traditionally light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames, symbolically taking away everything bad that might have happened in the last year. (For obvious safety reasons, many groups still build bonfires but don’t jump over them!)

Haft-Seen Table: The Table of Seven S’s

One of the visual focal points of a Norooz celebration is the Haft-Seen table, a beautiful spread of 7 items that begin in

Farsi with the letter s (seen). At the moment of the Spring equinox, many families gather around the haft-seen to reflect on the transition into the New Year. Here are some of the most common items you’ll see on a haft-seen table:

1. Somagh (sumac) : symbolizes the color of sunrise
2. Serkeh (vinegar): symbolizes age and patience
3. Senjed (dried fruit from lotus tree): symbolizes love
4. Samanoo (sweet pudding): symbolizes affluence
5. Sabzeh (sprouts, usually lentil or wheat): symbolizes rebirth
6. Sib (apple): symbolizes health and beauty
7. Sir (garlic): symbolizes medicine

Other items you might see on a haft-seen table include:

Goldfish in a bowl: symbolizes life
Eggs: symbolizes fertility
Mirror: symbolizes reflection on the past
Candle: symbolizes enlightenment
Sweets: (such as baklava or nuts) symbolizes sweetness
A book of poetry or prayer

Norooz Cuisine:

Popular dishes served for the Persian New Year include Sabzi polo va mahi (white fish with rice and herbs), kookoo sabzi (an herbed omlet), wheat pudding (samanoo), and various sweets such as baklava. If you’re feeling ambitious, here are some recipes to try! http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/2011/03/preparing-for-nowruz-1390-persian-new.html

And, of course, no Persian New Year celebration is complete without music and dance, and many festivals feature Persian folk dancing and belly dancers.

Are you celebrating Nowrooz this year? What are your favorite traditions?

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