The ancient Iranian/Persian celebration of Spring that has been celebrated for thousands of years by the people of Iran/Persia and many ethno-linguistic groups around the world is happening on Wednesday March 20th, 2019!
Have you heard of Nowruz or Norooz?
Nowruz or Norooz (pronounced no-rooz) literally translates from the Persian language to “New Day” in English. As Canadians, it is important to understand the wonderful cultures that help to make Canada an interesting and wonderful country to live in –as of 2016, there are more than 210,405 Iranian/Persian-Canadians in Canada (Rahnema). The roots of Nowruz/Norooz derives from a culture that has been around for thousands of years, and therefore, to discuss it in its entirety would require substantial research and many pages discussing scholarly work. This article will focus on the general aspects of the history and the Persian traditions of Nowruz/Norooz.
Brief History of Nowruz/Norooz
Nowruz/Norooz has been celebrated for thousands of years and its roots come from the ancient and original religion of Iran/Persia called Zoroastrianism. Transpiring from devotional poems by Zarathustra or Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism spread when proto-Iranian tribes of Western central Asia migrated to the Iranian plateau between 1500 and 800 BCE carrying Zarathustra’s teachings (Anheier and Juergensmeyer). Consequently, under the Achaemenid Empire and the Achaemenian or Persian kings (550–330 BCE), the Arsacid or Parthian monarchs (238 BCE–224 CE), as well as the Sasanian Dynasty (224–650 CE), Zoroastrianism became the national religion of Iran/Persians (Anheier and Juergensmeyer). It influenced such places now referred to as Mesopotamia or Iraq, Anatolia or Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, and prior to converting to Christianity in the fourth century the Armenians were Zoroastrians too (Anheier and Juergensmeyer). Additionally, scholars have declared that Zoroastrianism has had a fundamental impact on many religions.
Zoroastrians, intentionally or not, celebrated the beginning of Spring or the vernal equinox with a festival called Nowruz or Norooz, and specifically: “when the sun begins to regain strength and overcome winter’s cold and darkness and when there is a renewal of growth and vigor in nature” (Encyclopedia Iranica). Zoroaster symbolized the spirit of the sun as a magnificent victory to come that would represent a new hope on the horizon, and that any fight or challenge between good and evil would end. Most importantly, good will win against evil in the physical, moral, and spiritual sphere (Boyce). In turn, a festival to celebrate this hope, rejuvenation, rebirth, and victory to come was and is practiced on the new Spring day, falling typically on March 20th (at times the 21st depending on the year).
The spirit of the sun was a victory for Zoroastrians, and this idea and traditional celebration continues in many regions all over the world including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada, and the U.S (Michael). Different cultures and religions have made different variations of Nowruz/Norooz, and this article is focused on the Iranian/Persian perspective.
Traditions of Nowruz/Norooz
Setting up the Haft Seen is one of the most important traditions of Nowruz/Norooz. In English, Haft Seen means 7 S’s, as in, 7 specific items that start with an S or the letter “seen” in Persian (Walji). The items are symbolic, and the specific arrangement is symbolic emphasizing happiness, productivity, fertility, prosperity, health, and new beginnings.
The 7 items for the Haft Seen are (USIP):
- Sabzeh (sprouted wheatgrass representing rebirth & renewal)
- Samanu (sweet pudding symbolizing affluence)
- Senjed (dried fruit symbolizing sweetness in love)
- Serkeh (vinegar symbolizing the patience & wisdom that comes with aging)
- Sir (garlic symbolizing medicine and maintaining good health)
- Sib (apples symbolizing health & beauty)
- Sumac (granulated sumac berries symbolizing the color of sunrise)
Other items with symbolism:
- Mirror symbolizing self-reflection and awareness of the soul
- Goldfish symbolizing new life
- Lilac and flowers symbolizing Spring
- Decorated & colorful eggs symbolizing fertility
- Coins symbolizing wealth & prosperity
- Books of classical poetry such as Shahnameh or Hafez or religious texts
- Candles symbolizing fire & enlightenment
Baba Nowruz – Bringer of Gifts
He’s referred to as Baba Nowruz (Papa Nowruz or father new year) and Amoo Nowruz (Uncle new year) and he has a sidekick called Hajji Firuz.
Baba or Amoo Nowruz has a white beard and gives children gifts –much like Santa Clause! His sidekick Hajji Firuz shows up on the streets prior to Nowruz and sings traditional songs, plays the tambourine, wears colorful attire, typically red, and covers his face with soot –he does this hoping to earn coins by entertaining people (Omidsalar). Both Baba Nowruz and Hajji Firuz are traditional folk characters that help to bring joy to the children and celebrators of Nowruz/Norooz.
Weeks before Nowruz/Norooz, Iranians/Persians all around the world start cleaning their homes in anticipation of the new year which symbolizes a new day, new beginnings, and rebirth. The act of this cleaning is referred to in the Persian language as “Khoneh Takooni” which translates to “Shaking the House” in English (USIP).
Jumping over Fire
This is an exciting activity where crowds of celebrators gather on the last Wednesday in March (Persian solar year) and jump over bonfires. This ritual consists of leaping over the flames referred to as “Chahar-Shanbeh-Soori” symbolizing good health and prosperity for the new year. The fire must burn out naturally or extinguished by water, and the ashes are usually cleaned up by a family member and taken somewhere to be scattered, then that same person knocks on the door: “Who is it?” “It’s me.” “Where do you come from?” “From a wedding.” “What have you brought?” “Good health.” (Kasheff and Sirjani). Fire symbolism is a consistent theme in Zoroastrianism. Typically there is also a Halloween-type event during this time called “Qashoq zani” or “banging spoons” where people dress in disguise and go door-to-door asking for snacks similar to trick-or-treating!
Goodbye 13 –Sizdah Bedar
After Nowruz/Norooz, a traditional way to get rid of any bad luck with the number 13 is by getting together with friends and family while spending time in the outdoors and enjoying some food on the 13th day of the New year. This is called “Sizdah Bedar” aka eliminating the 13th. During this time people also get rid of the “sabzeh” aka the sprouted wheatgrass from the haft seen, and there are times when single women symbolize their hope for good fortune in life and love by tying knots in blades of grass with the hope of finding a husband by the next Norooz (USIP).
There is so much more to Nowruz/Norooz, and below are some important thoughts associated with this Spring celebration:
- The importance of Good thoughts, Good Deeds, Good Words
- The beauty of Spring and the hope that comes with it
- The beautiful connection with nature
- The value and importance of community, friendship, and family
- Cleansing the old and embracing the new
- If you have been dealing with life challenges, then this is a great time to make some positive choices for your life and feel hopeful that new and better days are ahead
This article has given a brief summary of the rich cultural celebration that is the Persian New Year. On Wednesday March 20th 2019, at approximately 6:00PM it will be Persian New Year! Join in on this wonderful celebration of Spring symbolizing renewal, rebirth, and rejuvenation and wish your Iranian/Persian friend, neighbor, or anyone a Happy Nowruz/Norooz, or say ” Soleh-No-Mubarak” pronounced Suh-leh-no-mow-bar-ack, or simply Happy Norooz or Happy Persian New year!
“As winter gives way to spring, as darkness gives way to light, and as dormant plants burst into blossom, Nowruz is a time of renewal, hope and joy.” (Eduljee)