What is Nowruz?

By Aliah Alkazemi

What is Nowruz?

Nowruz (نورو), also known as Persian New Year is a multicultural celebration observed by various multilingual and ethnic groups around the world. The celebration normally takes place around the end of March and falls on the spring equinox which also marks the first month of the Solar Hijri Calendar which is used as an official calendar used in Iran and Afghanistan.  The celebration dates to over 3,000 years making it one of the oldest celebrated holidays in the world.

The origins of Nowruz can be traced to Iranian mythology, where in the shahnameh (one of the world’s longest epic poem), the Iranian King Jamshid is credited with saving humanity from a deadly winter, he did this by constructing a jewel encrusted throne where he was raised into the heavens and sat, leaving him to shine like the sun. This was such a delight to the population as they all gathered around him to scatter gems and declare this day the New Day.

How is Nowruz Celebrated?

Due to its diverse observers, Nowruz can be celebrated in tons of ways. The most common and traditional ways being cleaning- as Nowruz is a 13-day holiday in Iran, many families come together to prepare for Nowruz by cleaning and tidying the house, new clothes are worn and traditional dishes are prepared as well. One of the most notable ways of celebrating Nowruz is through the arrangement of a Haftseen (هفت‌سین) table, where 7 symbolic items are placed on a table. These 7 symbolic items carry deep superstitions that are linked to success, prosperity and more.

The 7 items all start with the 15th letter in the Persian alphabet “س” and the word “هفت” (haft), means 7. The most common items that can be seen on tables are:

  1. Sabzeh a wheat grain that is grown in the preparation period. This item represents birth
  2. Samanu- a sweet wheat germ pudding to indicate prosperity and sweetness.
  3. Senjed- Oleaster which represents love.
  4. Seeb- An apple for health.
  5. Seer- Garlic, also for health.
  6. Somaq- a common flowering plant native to the region which represents sunshine.
  7. Serkeh- Vinegar for age.

Some variations of Haftseen tables also have coins (prosperity), painted eggs (fertility), mirrors for self-reflection and a book of wisdom which could either be religious or a appraised literary piece such as the Shahnameh.

On the 13th day of Nowruz, many families close Nowruz celebrations by leaving their house to enjoy a picnic outside in nature, the Sabzeh- grown wheat- is discarded in running water, however, before discarding the greenery it is customary in Iran for young women who want to find a partner to braid the leaves of the greenery and to provide a wish. For many around the world, Nowruz acts to bring together families and friends to celebrate and appreciate the world around them. It acts as a significant cultural celebration which creates unity through food and communication, whilst also continuing centuries long traditions that expand through generations.