With Spring Comes the New Year

By Prsn41ife

It’s that time of year again. Iranians and non-Iranians all over the world have started the arduous task of cleaning: cleaning their rooms, cars, cabinets, and basically anything else that is not tied down or bolted. Norouz, the Iranian New Year (March 21), has spread throughout the world by migrating Iranians and by the influence of Iranian culture on other civilizations. Norouz has been around for more than 3000 years and is closely entwined in the traditions and rituals of the Zoroastrian religion. This festival is now practiced in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and Iran. It is also practiced in parts of Iraq as well as in parts of India.
The term Norouz first appeared in the second century CE. Although there is no mention of the holiday during the Achaemenid period, it is suggested that Perspolis or at least the palace of Apadana and the “Hundred Columns Wall” were built for Norouz celebrations. Norouz became mainstream during the Parthian Dynasty of Iran and later, to a greater extent, during the Sassanid Dynasty. Most royal traditions of Norouz such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanian era and persisted unchanged until modern times. Norouz continued to survive under Islamic rule. There are records of the Four Great Caliphs presiding over Norouz celebrations. It was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period. However, the caliphate restricted some of the Sassanid traditions. With the decay of the Abbasid Caliphate and the rise of the Iranian Samanid and the Buyid dynasties, Norouz was elevated to an even more important level, and the once restricted Sassanid traditions were brought back to life. Norouz was accepted by the Mongols and Turkic tribes, who later set up their own dynasties in Iran. The traditional herald of the Norouz season is known as Haji Pirooz, or Hadji Firuz. It is suggested that he symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. Wearing black make up and a red costume, Haji Pirooz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading good cheer and the news of the coming New Year.
Haji Pirooz
Preparations for the Norouz celebrations begin in the Iranian month of Esfand, the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar. Preparations include cleaning the home, buying new clothes, stock piling pastries, fruits, nuts, and other delightful snacks (which will be used later to serve the guests), and preparing the haft seen (seven S’s; objects that all start with the letter S, however, this was not the case in ancient times - it was added later). In ancient times these items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals that protected them. Today, the symbolism for some of the items have changed, but some still remain the same. The Haft Seen consists of sabzeh (wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing rebirth), samanu (a pudding made of wheat germ, symbolizing affluence), senjed (the dried fruit of the jujube tree, symbolizing love), seer (garlic, symbolizing medicine), seeb (apples, symbolizing beauty and health), somaq (sumac berries, symbolizing the colors of the sunrise), serkeh (vinegar, symbolizing age and patience), sonbol (the fragrant hyacinth flower, symbolizing the coming of spring), and sekkeh (coins, symbolizing prosperity and wealth). The haft seen may also include a mirror, pastries, candles (symbolizing enlightenment and happiness), painted eggs (symbolizing fertility), bowl with goldfish inside (symbolizing life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaves), a bowl of water with orange coloring (symbolizing the Earth in space), rose water for its magical cleansing powers, the national colors, for a patriotic touch, and a holy book and/or a book of poetry. The New Year dishes are usually Sabzi Polo Mahi (rice with green herbs served with fish) and Reshteh Polo (rice cooked with noodles which is said to symbolically help one succeed in life). Have a great Norouz!
Haft Seen
Celebrations that are part of Norouz as a whole include chahar shanbe soori and sizdah bedar. Chahar shanbe soori takes place on the last Wednesday of the year. On this day, people come out into the streets, make fires and jump over them while singing the traditional song Zardie man az tou Sorkhie tou az man (literally: I give you my yellow, you give me your red (the color of the fire), but figuratively: My fear (sickness) to you, your strength (health) to me). Serving pastries and nuts on this day is a way of thanking the previous year and exchanging any remain paleness or evil with the fire. Traditionally, it is believed that spirits come to visit the people on this night, and this reenacted by children covered in shrouds (representing the spirits) running through the streets hitting pots and pans and going door to door asking for treats (much like Halloween). The ritual is called qashogh-zany (spoon beating) and symbolizes the beating out of the last unlucky Wednesday of the year. On the thirteenth day (sizdah bedar) of the New Year celebrations, families go out to have picnics, relax, and have fun. Sizdah bedar stems from the ancient Persian belief that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for a thousand years at the end of which, the sky and the earth collapsed in chaos. This is the reason why Norouz lasts twelve days, with the thirteenth being the time of chaos, when families put order aside and avoid the bad luck associated with the number thirteen by going outdoors and having picnics and parties. Norouz ends with the end of the Sizdah bedar celebrations, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Seen (which has symbolically collected all the sickness and bad luck) is thrown into running water to exorcise the demons (divs) from the household.
Norouz is a celebration that is both modern and ancient, pagan and monotheistic, traditional and spiritual. This celebration has survived for more than 3000, through many different dynasties, and through the dying of paganism with the coming of Islam. This celebration was again hindered with the coming of the 1979 revolution in Iran, in which many of the traditions that were deemed “un-Islamic” were banned for a short time. However, through the will of the people, and their love for old traditions, Norouz is now the main and most popular holiday in Iran, as well as other nations, and represents a glimpse into the past.