Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcoming Spring, and a New Year, In Iran

Frida Zeinali / youthjournalism.org
A Persian New Year holiday display on the street in Mashhad, Iran. The bearded figure is holding a Seven S table with items symbolizing growth, love, health, wealth, wisdom, patience and new beginnings for the coming year.
By Frida Zeinali
Junior Reporter
MASHHAD, Iran – Every year, March 20 marks a very important date on Iranians’ calendar – it’s the first day of spring, but it’s our New Year, too.
Iranian New Year, also known as Nowrouz (pronounced "no-rooz") is a major part of Iranian culture with its roots dating back a millennia.
Nowrouz, which means “New Day” in Persian, is annually celebrated on the first day of spring.
It’s the most cherished Iranian holiday. Millions of Iranians – both in country and abroad – consider Nowrouz an important part of their heritage and identity.
But we’re not the only ones. Along with Iranians, millions of people in Albania, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Turkey also celebrate this ancient holiday.
Preparations start weeks ahead of the big day. The most well-known ritual before Nowrouz is Red Wednesday. On the last Tuesday evening before Nowrouz, people set huge bonfires outdoors and jump over the flames, singing special poems and songs.
Spring cleaning, buying new clothes and decorating – family homes and city spaces, too – follow Red Wednesday.
An essential Nowrouz tradition is setting a “Seven S” table. No one knows exactly how far this ritual dates back, but Iranians have continued setting this table for centuries. This table contains seven items starting with the Persian /s/ sound. Each item on this table symbolizes a special quality in life.  These following items are a must:
Sabzeh: Sprouted seeds of wheat, lentil, mung bean or barley, which symbolizes growth.
Senjed: Dried oleaster fruit, symbolizing love.
Sib: Apples, symbolizing health.
Seer: Garlic, symbolizing care for a healthy life.
Samanu: A sweet pudding made from sabzeh juice and flour, symbolizing wealth.
Serkeh: Vinegar, symbolizing wisdom and patience in life.
Sumac: A spice made from crushed sour red berries, symbolizing new beginnings in life.
Families might put extra items on the table depending on their own preferences. The number of additional items varies by family. It’s common to have a bowl of water with goldfish and painted eggs for fertility, a mirror for honesty, candles and hyacinth flowers on the table.
Frida Zeinali / youthjournalism.org
The Zeinali family Seven S table, set with, from left to right, back row:  hyacinth, sprouted wheat, a mirror, sprouted lentil, a goldfish Middle row, from left: apple, eggs, candles, text from the Q'uran, garlic. In front, dried oleaster, coins (for wealth, a substitute for vinegar), samanu (sweet pudding) and crushed sumac. Click on the photo to enlarge.
The whole table is a tribute to God, giving thanks for all the blessings. People may also put a holy book on the table that corresponds to their religion. It would symbolize receiving help from God in the New Year.
Nowrouz corresponds with the vernal equinox and starts at the same moment as the equinox, not at the stroke of midnight.
The spring, or Vernal Equinox, occurs each year in the Northern Hemisphere between March 19 and March 21. At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere has the fall, or Autumnal Equinox.
This year in Iran, Nowrouz was observed at 8:27 a.m. on Sunday, March 20. It’s the time that the sun shines directly on the Equator and the length of the day is about the same as that of the night.
Frida Zeinali / youthjournalism.org
Haji Firouz, a figure from Iranian folktales, is part of the Persian New Year celebrations. Here he is holding a daf, similar to a tambourine in front of sprouted wheat and sprouted lentil. It's all part of a display on a Seven S table. Legend says that Haji travels the streets and alleys each year playing the daf to bring spring. After he leaves, the trees begin to bloom.

Nowrouz brings a 13-day holiday across the country for schools and universities as well as four days off for community workers. It gives everyone a perfect opportunity for traveling, family gatherings and resting.
At the beginning of the 13 days, families gather at the house of the oldest member to visiting each other and pay respect.
The last day has a special name, Sizdah Bedar. On the 13th day, families have a tradition of going on a picnic or somehow spending time in nature. At the end of the day, they leave their Sabzeh, the sprouted seeds, in nature and release their goldfishes into water if they are still alive.
During Nowrouz, family dinners also take place. Children usually receive fresh banknotes as gift. People forgive and forget the past, renewing relationships that had grown bitter.
So, it’s all about fresh beginnings.
There are many more traditions and rituals all across the country, depending on provinces; but these ones are the most well-known.
All these ceremonies share a lot of things in common. Wiping the sadness of the past, a desire for freshness and a deep respect for traditions are some of them. That’s the reason why the old traditions of Nowrouz are still highly admired and passionately followed.
Now I want to finish by saying “Happy Nowrouz” in Persian. So, “Nowrouz Pirouz!”
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