Things you may not know about Persian New Years traditions
Spring has finally arrived – though I am sure New Yorkers beg to differ.
Not only is March 20th the first day of Spring, beginning of a new season, the first of four seasons, but its also Persian New Years. A special time of the year that I have always looked forward to. Growing up in Europe, I was fortunate enough to experience celebrating different cultural traditions. What most people in the Western World know their Holiday Season to be, I got to have twice a year. During Christmas time in December and also in March, for Persian New Years also known as Norooz (please don’t argue about the spelling, it pretty much did not exist in Latin letters to begin with, so its up to all of us to choose how to write it lols)
The Feelings connected to Memorable Festive Times of the Year, the joy, the warmth, the excitement, the quality moments, the togetherness, all of this is very similar to the approx. 16 days of celebrations which Norooz entails. Aside from major Spring Cleaning there are some other preparations to be done before the Spring Equinox (its not 2017 but more like 13 hundred something..) The star of Norooz is the Haft-Sin, which is a table set up with 7 specific items (or a lot more) each symbolizing a different purpose and wish for the new year to come. Some people start this process weeks in advance to grow their flowers, sprout grains, and aside from Haft-sin duties, also shop for new wardrobe and gifts (like Christmas gifts but on New Years).
Every Year, I try to set up mine though its usually super last minute and I mostly skip the Goldfish. I don’t have much space to create a good size one like we used to have growing up, but I always try to incorporate some parts of the table into my home to add the Norooz Vibe I want, primarily the scent of Hyacinths – the traditional Norooz Flower -. I guess its the equivalent to people buying the unconventional Christmas tree set ups instead of the big tree with all the schnick schnack that makes it pompous and pretty.
Another Pre-Norooz tradition happens on the last Wednesday of the year, known as ‘Chaharshanbe Suri’ – Red Wednesday (google ‘Persians jumping over fire’). This was probably one of my favorite parts about all the festivities when I was little. Given the big Persian Communities in Germany, there were always a lot of things happening during this time and many events to go to. On this day, the eve of the last Wednesday, since Zoroastrians ruled Ancient Persia, people would rid their sickness and ills of the previous year by jumping over the purifying fire and glean warm, red energy. Nowadays, its a row of bonfires and people leaping over those flames shouting: sorkhi-e to az man, zardi-e man az to, or poetically translated, give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly pallor. I used to feel so much adrenaline jumping over those tiny bonfires, I felt like Sandra Bullock in ‘Speed’. I also remember looking forward to the Ajil (Persian Trail Mix) we would get from elders & trade the ones we didn’t like. Chasing boys, playing Foosball, carefree souls soaking up the purity and love that was so evidently in the air at that time of the year.
The Main event is of course held on the day of and people traditionally will follow the exact time of the Equinox. It could be in the middle of the night, or at 10 am, this will be the time to be present and welcome in the new year. There are calendars posted online for each city or country in the world to follow their own times. Speaking of times, I stumbled upon this article in the New York Times on said traditions and recommend reading it. She explains it so much better, as its written beautifully light but insightful at the same time. I love her reference to the Goldfish and pet-deprived Iranian children lol. #truth
Celebrating the New Years day is usually a combination of spending time with family, eating Sabzi-Polo-Mahi (A traditional Fish dish) unpacking gifts while eating more pastries, drinking tea, moving the coffee table and dancing in the middle of the living room, and playing games. Following this day, are 13 days of visiting friends, more family members, bringing gifts, inviting people over to your home, exchanging love and laughter. On the 13th day people usually take their sprouted grains and go to a lake to let it go as they make their wish (watch the video to learn more about this tradition). I cherish this time so much and tend to feel homesick being away from all of my family and friends celebrating together back in my other home.
I decided to share these traditions because I noticed how little Americans know about it, compared to what I was used to in Germany. Most of my non-Persian friends knew the traditions, as we shared it with them and would bring them along to events to experience it. But outside of those, I felt in general there was a solid knowledge and consideration shown from others to those celebrating Persian New Years. I remember my teachers knew about it and knew I was not going to come to class no matter what day of the week it would fall on. I hope you guys enjoyed this small view into another culture, I wish you all a happy Norooz!
And this is my humble mini Haft-sin this year;
To add a few things for those of you who want to emerged a little deeper into the Persian culture, I have picked a couple of videos and books to look into that will help you learn more about it.
- This is a funny TED talk by Persian Comedian Kvon addressing Persian New Years. It is actually funny AND informative.
- A Book called ‘Persepolis‘. Marjani Satrapi’s memoir in black and white comic strip format about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution
- Farhad Asghari’s new movie “The Salesman”, which has won many awards this year including the Oscar for best Foreign Film (remember the lady who gave a speech on the director’s behalf, who decided not to come to stand in solidarity with those countries and people effected by the muslim-ban)
Lets have an amazing year, filled with hope, love, and support for ourselves and others. I am confident if we become more empathetic, we can all benefit from it and live our lives purposefully.
Thank you all for the support & love you’ve shown me!
Namaste Kids, xx Shiva