Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds for thousands of years. It is a secular holiday that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths. Nowruz is rooted in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism. Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first-ever monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of Good and Evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Persia, centered in what is now Iran. Moreover, Nowruz originated in the geographical area called Persia in the Middle East and Central Asia. The distinct culture based on the language, food, music, and leisure activities that developed among many people and ethnic groups who lived in this area are recognized as Persians.
As I began planning for this Nowruz, the memories of my childhood spent in Iran started to come back to me and I began to compare how my friends and relatives celebrate Nowruz in Iran and how it is celebrated here in North America. Growing up in Iran, we typically started to prepare for the Nowruz celebration months in advance starting with a traditional spring cleaning of the house. Back home, Nowruz is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Children have a 14-day vacation from school, and most adults do not work during the festivities. Throughout the holiday period, friends and family gather at each other’s houses for meals and conversation.
The most important activity in the celebration of Nowruz is setting the “haft-seen” table. “Haft” is the Persian word for the number seven and “seen” is the Persian letter S. Thus, the “haft-seen” table literally means a table of seven items that start with the letter S.
Creating the “haft-seen” table is a Persian family tradition that begins by spreading a special family cloth on the table. Next, the table is set with the seven S-starting items such as,
- Sumac — crushed spice of edible sumac berries to symbolize the sunrise and the spice of life,
- Senjed — sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree to symbolize love and affection,
- Serkeh — vinegar to symbolize patience and age,
- Seeb — apple to symbolize health and beauty,
- Seer — garlic to symbolize good health,
- Samanu — wheat pudding to symbolize fertility and the sweetness of life, and;
- Sabzeh — sprouted wheatgrass to symbolize rebirth and renewal of nature.
In addition to these “S” items, there are other symbolic items that go on the “haft-seen” table, depending on the tradition of each household. It is customary to place a mirror on the table to symbolize reflection on the past year, a fishbowl with goldfish to symbolize new life, colored eggs to symbolize fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, special hyacinth flowers to symbolize spring, and candles to radiate light and happiness. Each family places other items on the table that are significant to them. For example, the Avesta, the Holy book of Zoroastrianism, their own specific religious book, or a book of poetry by the famous poet Hafez, which many Persians consider to their national poet.
Waking up extra early on New Year and dressing in new clothes for the New Year, gathering by the “haft-seen” table with family, anticipating the New Year countdown on Persian television channels at 7:02 AM Eastern Time, and “3…2…1… Sal-e No Mobarak (Happy New Year) is the typical schedule for most Persian families on Nowruz.
It may be just another day, another 24 hours in the span of an entire year, but for us who have Iranian roots, it’s a time to appreciate our rich culture and heritage, to reflect on our past and move forward with our lives with hope for a prosperous ear ahead filled with health, wealth, love, joy, and success.
Happy Nowruz to all my fellow Iranians, Afghanis, Tajiks, Ozbaks, and other nationalities who are Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’is, and others! May you be wise enough to count only the blessings you have been showered with, the friends you have made, and the joys you have received in the past year. Have a happy and prosperous New Year!
“Nowruz Pirouz Azizan”
— Saina Sobhani