In a few days spring will arrive and Persians everywhere will be celebrating Nowruz, first day of spring, and of its beauty and pleasant weather. This is the season to be in harmony with nature and put away the old and look forward to a new beginning. This is also the time to allow the warmth of the sun to help rejuvenate our creativity and shed the layers of dormancy. Starting from the time of the first Zoroastrians, this is the season that ancient Persians celebrated this changing of the season with well wishes for each other and for all that nature had provided for them.
The early Persians had a great appreciation for nature and the four seasons, and respected the earth, the sun, and the Supreme Being.
To this day, the precise moment that spring arrives is celebrated by following the virtually unchanged rituals that were observed hundreds of years ago in a ceremony called Nowruz, which means New Day.
The preparation for this day begins a few days prior to the arrival of spring in another ceremony to bid goodbye to the old year with whatever ailment or unhappiness that entailed. This ceremony is called Chaharshanbeh Suri, which is a festival of fire. The festivities begin on the evening of the last Tuesday of the year and continues until the early morning hours of Wednesday (Chaharshanbeh). Small bonfires symbolizing light, warmth and energy are built and while jumping over these fires you can hear this song: “Zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man,” which translates to: Take away all of my ailment and give me your health and energy. The evening is filled with joy, merry songs, and eating good food with family members.
One very specific food item is Ajil e Chaharshanbeh which is made up of assortments of unsalted nuts such as hazelnuts (fandogh), pistachios (pesteh), cashews (badam hendi), almonds (badam), walnuts (gerdoo), roasted chickpeas (nokhod) and dried fruit such as raisins (keshmesh) and dried white mulberry (toot). This ajil is sold at dried food stores (ajil forushi) in Iran as a prepared mix close to Nowruz. Those living outside Iran might not be able to prepare the exact mix but you can easily make your own with what is available at the stores. I mix my favorite roasted unsalted nuts with dried fruits such as dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, apricots.
Iranians and people of several other countries celebrate Nowruz the moment that spring arrives (Tahvil e Sal) with family members. The preparation for Nowruz by tradition is a very simple table or Sofreh (cloth) called Sofreh Haftseen which usually includes: Mirror, candles, colored eggs, flowers, fruits, nuts and sweets as well as 7 items that their name start with the sound of “S” in Persian. Each of these seven items symbolize what is really important to us in our lives. The selection as well as what each actually symbolizes, varies from family to family, but they may include any of the following:
Sabzeh Eid (sprouting seeds) – Rejuvenation and spring
Serkeh (vinegar) – Age and patience
Sib (apple, usually red) – Beauty and health
Seer (garlic) – Medicine and health
Somagh (sumac) – The crimson color of sunrise and spice of life
Sonbol (Hayacinth) – Beauty and fragrance of spring
Samanu (wheat germ pudding) – Prosperity
Sekkeh (coin) – Wealth
Sabzeh Keshmesh (raisins) – Sweetness of life
Mahi Ghermez (gold fish) – Life
Tokhm Morgh e Rangi (colored eggs) – Fertility and humanity
Ayneh (Mirror) – Reflecting on life
Candles or lanterns – Light, warmth and joy
Family members sit around the Haftseen table and await the arrival of spring, no matter if it is morning or middle of the night. At that precise moment they all kiss each other and wish one another a healthy and happy new year. The adults give presents to the younger members of the family and the celebrations continue for 12 days with welcoming relatives and friends to one’s home and reciprocating every visit.
Then on the early morning of the 13th day (Sizdeh Bedar) everyone leaves their homes for a previously planned mass picnic to outdoors in the foothills or by the river bank or a lake. The significance of a river or a body of water is that the Sabzeh Eyd (sprouting seeds) is kept until this day and then thrown in the water for good luck and also to symbolize the return to nature.
These are the common phrases that you will hear when you’re around Persians, a few days before Nowruz and through a couple of week after Nowruz: “Nowruz Mobarak” (Happy Nowruz). “Eyd e Shoma Mobarak” (Happy Eyd e Nowruz). “Sal e No Mobarak” (Happy New Year). If you’re in Tabriz, Iran; you will hear “Bayramiz Mubarah.”
SOME TRADITIONAL RECIPES FOR NOWRUZ: