The Noruz Tradition
By Mani Ardalan Farhadi Newton, Massachusetts
This article was written as part of a thesis proposal on the Center for Persian Culture in Newton, Massachusetts.
Noruz, is the first day of the Iranian solar year, translated literally as “New Day”. Since the Achaemenid era (12th B.C.), the official year has begun with the New Day when the sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, a fire sign, signifying the Spring Equinox.
The moment the sun crosses the equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and families gather together to observe the rituals. Noruz is considered the major civil celebration of the year. Coinciding with March 20 or March 21, the first day of the first month of Farvardin, brings about a rebirth of nature.
“Haft Seen” is a traditional table decorated with at least seven or “Haft” symbolic objects, nutrients or plants beginning with the Persian letter “s” or “Seen”. They often consist of hyacinth “Sonbol”, red apples “Seeb”, the spice sumac “Somagh”, garlic “Seer”, vinegar “Serkeh”, coins “Sekeh”, Bohemian olives “Senjed”, and a dish of germinated wheat or barley seeds “Sabzeh”.
The hyacinth blooms in the springtime, symbolizing the rebirth of nature. Red apples provide color as well as representing the First Fruit, from the time of Adam and Eve. Sumac is said to be the spice of life and garlic is believed to chase away evil spirits. Vinegar is a symbol of fermentation, having originated as grapes and undergone many transformations. The coins represent wealth and hopes for prosperity. The germinated seeds represent the fertility of the land in Spring.
The tablecloth used on the Haft Seen table is made of hand-woven cloth, known as “Termeh”. The Holy Book of the household is placed on this table. On the table are also placed a mirror for the reflection of life, candles representing the light of life, goldfish in a bowl as a sign of living form, a painted egg for each member of the family, traditional pastries and bread to symbolize a plentiful year.
The family gathers around the table holding hands at the specific time of Equinox, which varies every year. As they wait, they place a sweet in their mouth and a coin in their hand. At the moment of transition into the new year or “Sal Tahvil”, family members embrace each other. A traditional meal is served made of steamed rice with chopped parsley, dill and chives served with fish, known as “Sabzi Polo Mahi”.
“Sizdah Bedar” is the “thirteenth outing” and is the finale to the Noruz celebrations, when Persians symbolically renew their life. The thirteenth day of the new year is considered to be unlucky and in order to partake in a final cleansing, people leave their homes and depart into the countryside.
They spend the whole day at picnics with the family, enjoying the fresh air. Single women tie blades of grass together, while wishing that in the coming year they will tie the knot in marriage. The planted seeds of “Sabzeh” is thrown into a flowing stream of water, symbolizing ongoing fertility.
Thus the festivities are over and people are ready to return to work and to face the year ahead.