Iran Celebrates No-Rooz, the Spring New Year, As Others Join the Holiday Mood

Chingiz Akhmetov

Happy New Year! March 21, the first day of spring, is traditionally No-Rooz (also called Nawruz), the Iranian New Year. Its customs have spread throughout Central Asia and beyond, and are celebrated in Kazakhstan as well as Nauryz.

So here are some explanations of the traditions that came to epitomize the holiday.

No-Rooz means “New Day.” It comes at the exact beginning of spring, a time of new growth in nature, increasing warmth and light and the perfect time to celebrate the beginning of the year. The exact moment the year begins is called Saal Tahvil.

No-Rooz has been celebrated in the Iranian tradition for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in the 7th century A.D.

Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year. They carry out a full spring cleaning of their homes called Khaane Tekaani and buy new clothes.

A major part of the New Year rituals is the Haft Seen, or Seven Settings of the festive table. In ancient times, each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. All seven items start with the letter ‘s’. They are the Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice) is substituted for the Serke.

Zoroastrians today do not keep the seven table settings but observe the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that they are keeping the seventh feast of creation. The sprouting of the seeds into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.

Wheat or lentils representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then placed outside. Some live goldfish are placed in a fish bowl. Once they would have been returned to a river, but today most people keep them.

Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. People used to place a Holy Qoran, the sacred scriptures of the Islamic faith on their ceremonial table, or Sofreh to bless the New Year. But others use the Divan-e Hafez (The poems of Hefez) instead and at the start of the New Year, they read verses from it during the Saal Tahvil ceremony.

Many people place a copy of the Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings) of Ferdowsi on their ceremonial table as an Iranian national book as it celebrates so many national traditions and spirits.

After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other, traditionally cash, coins or gold coins, usually older people to younger ones.

The next few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and Aajil, a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweets. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians dine on Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked is also served. The next day rice and noodles, Reshteh Polo is served in colourful feasts.

The 13th day of the New Year is called Sizdah Bedar and is spent mostly outdoors. People leave their homes to visit parks and scenic sites for festive picnics. It is the most popular day of the holidays for children. On this day people throw the Sabze away. Iranians regard the thirteenth day as a bad omen and believe that by going into fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. Single girls wish for a husband by going into the fields where they tie a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.

Chahar-Shanbeh Soori takes place before Saal Tahvil on the last Tuesday night of the old year. People light bonfires and leap over the fires singing songs crying out phrases like “Sorkhi-e to az man” – “Give me your beautiful red color” and “Zardi-e man az to” and “Take back my sickly complexion.” This is a purification rite.

No-Rooz is a fun time for all Iranians, old and young.

No-Rooz Greetings:

No-Rooz Mobarak (Happy Nowruz, Happy New Year)

Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to you)

No-Rooz Pirooz (Wishing you a Prosperous New Year)

Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 more Happy New Year)