Iranian New Year Celebration (Nowruz)
Iranian New Year celebration is called Nowruz, which means new day in Farsi, the official language of Iran. Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring on March 20th or March 21st known as Spring Equinox. Nowruz tradition goes back 3000 years and has its roots in Zoroastrian religion.
Zoroastrian religion is based on believe in one God and duality of good versus evil. The one God is called Ahuramazda, meaning the “Wise Lord”, the supreme God, who is the embodiment of all that is good. He has an enemy, Ahriman who causes destruction and represents all that is evil. Humans are to remain good by following the path of good: good thought, good word, and good deed. Zoroastrians also revere nature and the four elements of fire, water, earth, and wind are considered sacred especially fire, which has become a symbol for Zoroastrian religion and can be found in all their temples. Zoroastrians celebrate the arrival of each season with special rituals to receive blessings from nature. But Nowruz is the most important celebration because it consists of several celebrations. In addition to New Year, Nowruz is also the celebration of spring, the season of renewal and harvesting. This ancient celebration still continues in Iran, the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan and the rest of the world.
Zorastrian was the official religion of Iran until the 7th C.E. when the Arab army defeated the Iranian dynasty of Sasanian and brought Islam to Iran. After Islam, Iranians were able to preserve Nowruz as a secular tradition by blending it with Islamic traditions, which has helped Nowruz to survive through the ages without losing its original meanings. However, we should note that Nowruz has remained a religious tradition for the Zoroastrians in Iran and elsewhere who have been celebrating it in its original form. Today Nowruz has become a global celebration for Spring Equinox and the First Day of Spring.
What is so important about Nowruz that it has been able to survive (sustain) through the ages? Let us examine this question by studying the rituals surrounding Nowruz. But first let’s hear the story of the first Nowruz celebration from the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic.
The Story of Jamshid and the First Nowruz from the Shahnameh
The first Nowruz celebration started by Jamshid, a pre-historian king in the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic. Jamshid was a good king who brought harmony and peace to his people through his Farr which can be defined as divine aura. In ancient times in Iran only kings or certain heroes possessed Farr which enabled them to protect the people of Iran from evils and keep the country safe and people happy.
Jamshid created human civilization, agriculture, textile, clothing, armor, weapon, medicine, perfume, and all things for living a civilized life in a span of 200 years. He created social class and everyone had a role in society. He was able to tame demons and assign them to do construction work. When it was all done it was time to celebrate. He built a throne for himself adorned with jewels,which was lifted up to heaven by demons. Up there he was sitting and smiling in the sky and the whole creatures surrounded him with admiration. This day was the first Nowruz, which was celebrated on the first day of spring in the month of Farvardin and has remained as the New Year celebration in Iran and much of the countries with Farsi speaking populace.
Rituals, Traditions, and Customs-
The following traditions are for the preparation and welcoming of Nowruz.
How to decorate your house
Spring Cleaning or Khaneh Takooni—“Khaneh” in Farsi means house, “Takooni” means shaking. So “Khaneh Takooni” means shaking the house and the reason for it is to shake the dusts out of the rug. Hand-knotted rugs are a very popular and pricey crafts of Iran and can be found in most houses. They can range from very expensive silk woven rugs to less expensive Glims made in different villages, each with their own unique design and color schemes.
Chaharshanbeh Sori- “Chaharshanbeh” means Wednesday; “Soori” means fire. Fire symbolizes purity and is sacred in Zoroastrian religion. People young and old gather along the rows of bone fire in the backyards or in gardens. They start jumping over the fire while singing these words: “Sorkieh toe az man, Zardieh man az toe” Translation is: fire you give me your redness and energy and in return I give you my paleness and sickness. Some people wear costumes usually a white sheet over their clothes while hitting on pots and pans with spoon. This is called “ghashogh zani”. “Ghashogh” means spoon and “zani” means beat. So “ghashoogh zani” means beating spoon. They knock on the neighbor’s door with their face covered behind the sheet in disguise and ask for treats or tricks. The customary treats are: Ajil-e Chaharshanbeh Soori, assortment of seven dried nuts & fruits, pistachios, roasted chic peas, almonds, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins. Ash-e Chaharshanbeh Soori, noodle soup and cookies. It is considered good luck to eat these treats.
Haftseen- Means seven items which start with “S.” These items are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinegar), Samanoo ( a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (special dried burry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). These seven items are symbol of health, prosperity, fertility and renewal in humans and nature, and happiness. In addition to Haftseen items, the other common items are: Quran (Muslims’ holy book), flowers, mirror and candlelight, painted eggs, goldfish, and special sweets. Some people put Divan-Hafiz, a very famous poet instead of Quran and recite poetry while others put the Shahnameh, the Iranian national epic. Zoroastrians do not have Haftseen. Instead they grow seven herbs representing the renewal aspect of Norouz and spring.
Sabze wheat and lentil Sprout- It starts seven to ten days before the new year. Soak one to two cups seeds of lentil or wheat in a bowl; fill it with water one inch above the seeds in a well-lit area inside of the house for two days. Then remove the content and spread it on a flat plate and cover it with cloth. Keep the cover moist by squirting water on it for the next few days when you see the sprouts. Then take off the cover and water it a few times a day. By the time of the New Year sabze will be a few inches tall. Most Iranian grocery stores in US sell prepared sabze.
Asian Art Museum Object–Bowl with Landscape (Francisco)
Representation of Nowruz, Spring, The glistening golden flora with wheat brushes