In harmony with the rebirth of nature, the Iranian New Year celebration, or Noruz, always begins on the first day of Spring. Noruz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts: the End and Rebirth of Good and Evil. This celebration and its rituals date back at least three thousand years. The New Year falls on the Vernal Equinox or “Saal-Tahveel” which may occur on March 20th, 21st or 22nd. The New Year makes its arrival at the precise moment when the sun crosses the Equator.
It is Amou Noruz or Haji Firuz (Uncle New Year, similar to Santa Claus) who kicks out the winter cold and brings life to nature and warmth to every household. People disguise themselves by painting their faces black and wearing red hats and satin outfits. Haji Firuz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines, kettle drums, and trumpets to spread good news about the coming New Year.
Noruz is a non-religious celebration of Spring Equinox. It has been celebrated by all of major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumerians in 3000BC and Babylonians in 2000 BC, the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia in 2000BC and the Akaddians have all celebrated it in one form or other. Today Noruz has uniquely Iranian characteristics, which have been celebrated for at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in the traditions of the Zoroastrian (Parsi) belief system.
All Iranians still carry out the Spring traditions and celebrate Chaarshanbeh Soori which takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday of the year. Bon fires are lit and every one jumps over fire and pray for immunity from illnesses and misfortune in the coming year. Persians celebrate New Year for 13 days only, because traditionally 13 is said to be an unlucky and unfortunate number so the festival is ended by spending the 13th day — Seezdah Bedar — outdoors with family and friends to avoid bad luck.
The first few days of the festival are spent visiting older members of the family other relatives and friends. Gifts and money are exchanged and sweets and feasts are consumed. The ceremonial spread known as Haft-Seen is set up in each household. “Haft” means “seven” and “Seen” is the 15th letter of the Persian alphabet which corresponds to the letter “S”. The following seven things whose names start with Seen/S must be present on any Haft-Seen spread:
1) Sabzeh (sprouts, usually lentil or wheat) – Represents fertility and rebirth of nature. 2) Seeb (apple): – Represents natural beauty. 3) Samanu (a sweet creamy pudding): – Represents the virtue of patience. 4) Somaq (somaq berry used as a spice): – Represents the color of sunrise as the appearance of the sun symbolises Good conquering Evil. 5) Senjed (the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus Tree) – Represents love. It has been said that when the Lotus Tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to everything else. 6) Seer (garlic): – Represents good health. 7) Serkeh (vinegar) – Represents longevity.
Other items that can be seen on the Haft-Seen are:
* Ayneh – Mirror represents reflections of Creation which according to Persian beliefs, took place on the first day of Spring. * On either side of the mirror are two candlesticks holding a flickering candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness. * Sonbol (Hyacinth) – Spring flowers with the scent of heaven. * Sekkeh (coins) – Represent prosperity and wealth. * A basket of painted eggs represents fertility. * A seville orange floating in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space. * A goldfish in a bowl of water represents life and the end of astral year-picas. * A flask of rose water known for its magical cleansing power. * Incense to ward off evil spirits.