Happy Nowruz and New Iranian Year

Originating in Iran’s ancient history, Nowruz is celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide on March 21, the day of the spring Equinox, which marks the sun’s crossing of the Equator and the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Nowruz is as one of the oldest and most cherished festivities celebrated for at least 3,000years.Nowruz, as the embodiment of the unity of cultural heritage and centuries-long traditions, plays a significant role in strengthening the ties among peoples based on mutual respect.

The foundations of the traditions and rituals of Nowruz reflect features of the cultural and ancient customs of the civilizations of East and West, which influenced those civilizations through the interchange of human values. It is not exactly known when and how the festival of Nowruz emerged. Some historians believe that natural changes in weathers gave rise to the festivities. Some consider it a national festival, while others regard it as a religious ritual.

According to Zoroastrians, the month of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian solar calendar) refers to Faravashis, or spirits, which return to the material world during the last 10 days of the year. Thus, they honor the 10-day period in order to appease the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The Iranian tradition of visiting cemeteries on the last Thursday of the year may have originated from this belief.

The Iranian people seize the moment each year at the beginning of spring, and at the turn of the year, to say the prayer, reminding their kin across the globe of the need for change. It is a reminder calling on the people across the globe to do away with their differences and as appears in the words of Iranian famous 13th-century poet Saadi Shirazi, to once again remember that human beings are members of a whole. The sons of Adam are limbs of each other, Having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time affects one limb The other limbs cannot remain at rest.

If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a human

Nowruz is essentially a celebration to usher in the season of spring — a welcome respite from the preceding months of winter. Not surprisingly then, the term ‘Nowruz’ means ‘New Day’ in Persian. The return of the spring was seen to have great spiritual significance, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and joy over sorrow. Nowruz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts – the End and Rebirth.

Central to the Iranian celebrations of Nowruz is the setting of the Haft seen table. In line with the literal meaning of its name — ‘haft’ refers to the number seven, while ‘seen’ refers to the letter ‘S’ in Persian language. Thus the ‘haft seen’ table contains seven items, all with Persian names starting with ‘S’.

Haft seen has a rather complex history, having evolved from Haft-Shin of the Kayanids dynasty era to Haft-Chin of the Achaemenids dynasty circa and to its current Haft seensince the writing of ‘Shahnameh’ (‘Book of the Kings’) — the epic poem book of the Persian kings by Ferdwosi of nearly 1,000 years ago. In fact, the word Haft, meaning seven, denoting the seven days of ‘creations’ has remained the same throughout.

In addition, each of them have their own symbolism, as outlined by a teaching resource on Nowruz published by Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies:

  1. Sumac (crushed spice of berries): For the sunrise and the spice of life
  2. Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree): For love and affection
  3. Serkeh (vinegar): For patience and age
  4. Seeb (apples): For health and beauty
  5. Seer (garlic): For good health
  6. Samanu (wheat pudding): For fertility and the sweetness of life
  7. Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal of nature

Apart from these seven items, there are also many other items that Iranians include in their Haft seen table, such as painted eggs representing fertility and a mirror to signify reflection on the past year. While the origins of the Haft seentable are still not well-documented today, the tradition of placing various symbolic items on a Sofra (a piece of cloth spread on the floor or table) during Norouz has its roots in Zoroastrianism — a Persian monotheistic religion that predated the Abrahamic faiths.

The other principal customs associated with Norouz, i.e. Chaharshanbe Suri (fire-jumping festival) and Sizdah Bedar (the tradition of spending the day outdoors on the thirteenth day of Nowruz), probably had historical links to Zoroastrianism too.

The International Day of Nowruz was registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on February 23, 2010.