THE BLOG

Happy Nowruz: How We Celebrate the Persian New Year

03/22/2013 11:16 am ET | Updated May 22, 2013

For most people, March 20 is just another day on the calendar. Another Wednesday of morning coffees, rush hours, late meetings and daily chores; But for Persians around the world March 20 is a day of celebration, feast and joy. The first day of the spring season marks the Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz -- that is a combination of two Persian words: no, which means "new," and rouz, which means "day." Together they mean "New Day." The exact beginning of the Nowruz occurs when the season changes from winter to spring on the vernal equinox.

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 partly 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 is 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 the many people and ethnic groups who lived in this area are known as Persian.

As I began planning for this Norouz 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 here in North America. Growing up in Iran, we prepared for the Nowruz celebration months before it arrived 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 for the letter "S."L iterally, the haft-seen table 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 items which include Sumac (crushed spice of berries) to symbolize the sunrise and the spice of life, Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree) for love and affection, Serkeh (vinegar) for patience and age, Seeb (apples) for health and beauty, Sir (garlic) for good health, Samanu (wheat pudding) for fertility and the sweetness of life, and Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) for rebirth and renewal of nature.

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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 bowl of real goldfish to symbolize new life, colored eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, special flowers called hyacinths 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 is the holy book of Zoroastrianism, or a book of poetry by the famous poet Hafez, which Many Persians consider him to be their national poet.

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From the cold, windy and snowy weather of Northern part of United States and Canada, Iranian citizens were also welcoming Nowruz 1392 into their homes. Waking up extra early on March 20 and dressing in new clothes bought specifically for the New Year, gathering by the haft-seen table with the family and anticipating the count down on Persian television channels finally after what it seemed like ages at 7:02 a.m. Eastern time "...3, 2, 1 Sal-e No Mobarak!! (Happy New Year)."

It may be just another day, another 24 hours in the year, but for us Iranians, it's a time to appreciate our rich culture and heritage. To reflect on our past and move forward with our lives with a hope for a prosperous year ahead filled with health, wealth, love, joy and success.

Happy Nowruz to all my fellow Iranians. May you be wise enough to count only the blessings you have been showered with, the friends you have made, and the joys you've received in the past year. Have a happy and prosperous new year. "Nowruz pirouz."