The Iranian New Year is traditionally at the exact astronomical beginning of spring. Nowruz, which means new day, has been celebrated with unique characteristics for over 3,000 years. The celebration is also deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian, which was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in the 7th century.
This is the biggest celebration of the year. As part of the tradition, before the New Year, Iranians start cleaning their houses and buying new clothes.
But a major part of the rituals surrounding the New Year is the setting of the “Haft Seen” with seven specific items. In ancient times, each of these items were connected to the seven creations and seven immortals protecting them. All seven of them start with an “S”, although this was not the order in ancient times.
The seven things used are:
- Seeb (apple)
- Sabze (green grass)
- Serke (vinegar)
- Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat)
- Senjed (a special kind of berry)
- Sekke (coin)
- Seer (garlic)
However, sometimes Serke is replaced by Somagh (sumac, an Iranian spice). Those who still practice Zoroastrian have the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their new growth symbolizes resurrection and eternal life to come.
Other key parts of the tradition include growing wheat or lentil in a flat dish. Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year before being disposed of outdoors. A few live goldfish are also kept, although at the end of the celebration, the family can opt to keep them versus returning them to the river. Mirrors are placed on this spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. They also add a copy of the Qoran or the Divan-e Hafez to their spread to bless the New Year. Reading verses from these books was also popular to do during “Saal Tahvil”. Nowadays, a large number of Iranians have chosen to place the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi on their spread, because they believe that this is a better reflection of the Iranian identity values and spirits.
After the Saal Tahvil, people wish each other a happy new year with signs of affection, such as hugs and kisses. They also give each other presents, which traditionally include cash, coins or gold coins. This tradition is usually carried out by older ones gifting these items to younger ones. The first few days of the new year are spent visiting older members of the family, along with other friends and relatives.
Children also enjoy the celebration, as they receive presents and sweets. One special treat is Aajil, which is a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff included. The night before New Year’s, Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, which is a dish of cooked rice with fresh herbs and eggs (baked or fried), along with freshly smoked or fried fish. Other key dishes include Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs and baked or fried eggs. On New Year’s Day, Reshteh Polo is served, which is a dish of rice and noodles. As with all celebrations, there are regional variations and some areas choose to prepare colorful feasts as part of their celebration.
The 13th day of the New Year is called Sizdah Bedar. As part of this day, people are mostly outdoors, going to parks or local plains for a festive picnic. The Sabze is also disposed of on this day. Part of the reasoning behind this tradition is that 13 is considered unlucky. By being outdoors, Iranians avoid misfortunes. Unwed girls can also wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots to symbolize the marital bond.
In the West, New Year’s Eve is a time of great celebration, as the old year is ushered out. Iranians have a tradition called Chahar-Shanbeh Soori, which takes place before Saal Tahvil, on the last Wednesday of the old year. People set up a bonfire on Tuesday night and the young and old leap over the fires with songs and make merry.
Some of the Nowruz Greetings include:
Nowruz Mobarak – Happy New Year
Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak – Happy New Year to you
Nowruz Pirooz – Wishing you a Prosperous New Year
Sad Saal be in Saal-ha – Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years
This is a time of celebration in Iran and a time to spend with family and friends, while welcoming in the new year and a fresh beginning.