Everything You Need to Know About Nowruz

What does “Nowruz” mean?

“Nowruz” is a compound word made up of two Persian words; “now” meaning “new” and “roz” meaning “day”. Spellings vary as there is no standardized way of transliterating “Nowruz” into English and pronunciations vary depending on a person’s mother tongue.

What is Nowruz?

Nowruz is a holiday that marks the first day of spring and the spring equinox. Usually on the 20, 21 or 22 of March, this day marks the start of the calendar for various countries in Central Asia.

Who celebrates Nowruz?

Anyone who wants to! The holiday has religious meaning for some but many also celebrate it for non-religious reasons.

Where is Nowruz celebrated?

Nowruz is celebrated in various countries in Central and South Asia, as well as in the Middle East. It is most commonly associated with Iran as the holiday has its roots in Zoroastrianism, once the state religion of various empires in modern-day Iran. Many people who are living in the West, especially those in diaspora, also celebrate Nowruz.

How is Nowruz celebrated?

Preparations for Nowruz start well before the actual day of the spring equinox; during the first few weeks of March, families “shake down” the house, meaning they thoroughly clean it from top to bottom.

On the actual day, a haft seen (“seven S’s”) table is set up. The table setting is names after seven key attributes, all of which begin with an “S” in Persian and all of which symbolize different ideas. These include sabzeh (sprouts) which symbolizes rebirth, serkeh (vinegar) which symbolizes age and patience, senjed (dried fruit) which symbolizes love, samanu (a sweet pudding) which symbolizes affluence, sib (apple) which symbolizes health and beauty, sir (garlic) which symbolizes medicine, and somegh (sumac) which symbolizes sunrise. The table is also decorated with other items, such as painted eggs, mirrors and goldfish.

Nowruz celebrations vary from country to country.

In Iran, for example, celebrations typically last for 13 days. Celebrations start at exactly when sunlight is divided evenly between the North and South hemispheres and culminate in a picnic on the thirteenth day when young girls throw their sabzeh away.

In Azerbaijan, Nowruz celebrations begin a month before the first day of spring and each week prior to the day of Nowruz, is dedicated to one of the four elements. Other features of an Azeri Nowruz include lots of cooking, especially pastries such as shekerbura and public celebrations with food and entertainment.

In both Iran and Azerbaijan, children play games on Nowruz, including a particularly giggle-inducing game that includes trying to crack your opponent’s egg with your own. This one has been known to cause grown women (including myself) to dissolve into giggles.

These are just two examples of how, despite being the same holiday and having much in common, Nowruz celebrations also differ from country to country due to the fact that the symbolism of Nowruz differs from culture to culture.

Is there a special way of dressing on Nowruz?

There is no one particular way to dress for Nowruz. How people dress usually depends on where they are from but most people usually buy new clothes for Nowruz – in this way, you could say it’s similar to Eid!

Happy Nowruz!

Written by Mahnoor Javed 

Image by Hamed Saber