What is Norooz?
Spring is around the corner, and with it the Persian New Year of Norooz! Rooted in the rebirth brought forth with the new season, Norooz is a two-week celebration welcoming spring as the sun crosses the equator, the vernal equinox. While the celebration is deeply rooted in the Zoroastrian faith, the ancient celebration actually predates it, and is primarily a celebration of a celestial event.
Norooz is the most important holiday for Persians in Iran and throughout the diaspora. While it is a secular holiday in the Muslim world, it remains a religious observance for Zoroastrians and simultaneously signifies the Baha’i New Year. The holiday is celebrated throughout the greater region by Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Also in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, China, Georgia, Pakistan and Parsis in India.
The 13-day celebration is marked by three significant days:
1. Chaharshanbeh Suri:
This directly translates to “red flame,” and is celebrated on the Wednesday prior to the new year. Traditionally, you light three bonfires, (one each to signify the traditional Zoroastrian maxims of Humata (Good Thoughts), Hukhta (Good Words), and Huvarshta (Good Deeds), and leap over each whilst reciting Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man (May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine) to the flames.
The actual first day of Spring, which falls on March 20 this year. Families gather around their ceremonial haft-seen table to recite poetry, read from their holy book, eat the traditional meal of sabzi-polo va mahi, eat sweets, drink tea, and visit family and friends and exchanging eidee.
A traditional haft-sinn (seven dish) spread display sacred items that begin with the Persian letter sinn. The items represent the seven divine heralds of life — rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty.
The Seven Sinns of the Haft-Sinn include:
- Sabzeh (سبزه) – sprouts signifying rebirth
- Samanu (سمنو) – creamy wheat pudding representing rebirth
- Senjed (سنجد) – wild olive symbolizing love
- Seer (سیر) – garlic as medicine
- Seeb (سیب) – apple signifying health
- Somāq (سماق) – sumac represents the sunrise and the allegory of good defeating evil with the appearance of the sun
- Serkeh (سرکه) – vinegar symbolizes the patience that comes with old age
Other sinn and non-sinn items are also traditionally found on the ceremonial table, including: sekkeh (coins for wealth) and sombol (hyacinth for fragrance), a mirror for a the reflection of the future, goldfish as the symbol for celestial Pisces and abundance, decorated eggs for fertility, a Quran and other holy books, the Shahnameh or Divan Hafiz.
3. Sizdeh Bedar:
This takes place at the end of the 13 days. It is celebrated with an epic picnic set in nature, preferably near a free flowing body of water. Wishes and prayers are knotted into the sabzeh (sprouts) that were featured on the haft-sinn are then tossed into the river, ocean or lake to signify a return to nature and to ceremoniously close the festivities until the following year.