by Lauren on 13 Mar 2017
The Iranian New Year is so old that no one knows when the annual celebrations began.
Also known as the Iranian New Year, this holiday is so old that no one knows when the annual celebrations began.
However, it is easy to see why the Persian New Year has stood the test of time. It's all about starting with a fresh slate, and that is a universal theme. Everyone can also relate to Nowruz no matter what religion, creed or race.
Excited about spending Nowruz in Iran? Here is your guide to everything you need to know about celebrating the Persian New Year!
Important Facts About the Persian New Year
What is Nowruz?
It's not often that you can say you are are celebrating a tradition so old, it predates Islamic and Christian beliefs. The Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz or Norouz has been celebrated on the cusp of the Spring Equinox for over 3,000 years, if not more. Nowruz is linked to an ancient Persian religion called Zoroastrianism.
When is Nowruz Celebrated?
The date and time of the festivities changed each year and the Iranians observe the Persian New Year by doing a deep clean of their homes, celebrating another season of new life and wishing each other good luck for the year ahead.
In 2017, Nowruz will be celebrated on the 20th of March and begin at 1:58 pm, Iranian time. This is because the Persian new year starts at the same moment of the spring equinox and not at the stroke of midnight, as is the Western tradition.
While the holiday has changed in some ways over the last couple of thousand years, there are still a few foundational tenants that nearly every Iranian upholds:
Preparing for the Iranian New Year
In the weeks leading up to Norouz, Iranians start a massive spring-cleaning mission in their homes, removing any unnecessary clutter and grime to begin the year afresh. In fact, you can often tell if the equinox is near, as homeowners can be seen beating the dust out of their Persian rugs.
What is Haft-Seen?
Haft-seen is a collection of items that symbolise a different hope for the Persian New Year. The name literally means the "Seven S's", and in the days before the spring equinox, families will begin collecting the items and setting aside a space for haft-seen.
While there are variations that can be added, there is a core seven that must be present in every haft-seen:
- Sabzeh: wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts that will grow in the weeks leading up to Nowruz to symbolise rebirth.
- Senjed: Dried fruit, ideally from the lotus free to symbolise love.
- Sib: Apples to symbolise beauty and health.
- Seer: Garlic to symbolise medicine.
- Samanu: A sweet pudding symbolising wealth and fertility.
- Serkeh: Vinegar to symbolise the patience and wisdom that comes with age.
- Sumac: Crushed sumac berries to symbolise the colour of the sunrise.
Once the core seven are set, Iranian families often customise their Haft-Seen. Some include a volume of Hafez, one of Iran's beloved poets, candles, mirrors and other symbolic objects.
Other Celebrations and Traditions Before and After Nowruz
Eve of Red Wednesday
Iranians celebrate the last Wednesday before Nowruz with a tradition known as "Eve of Red Wednesday." The festivities involve public bonfires, jumping over them and repeating "Give me your beautiful red colour, and take back my sickly pallor!"
Did o Bazdid
After the first day of the Persian New Year, Iranians will then spend the next 11 days visiting the homes of relatives, friends and neighbours. This tradition is called Did o Bazdid and starts with the eldest and closest to the family. If you happen to be invited, expect to see fruit platter, ajil, sweets and freshly brewed tea.
On the 13th day of celebrations, it is customary to spend the day outside to get rid of bad luck. This tradition is called Sizdah Bedar and marks the first month of the Iranian solar calendar. Iranians also use this day to take their sabzeh from their Haft-Seen to a natural body of water and let it float away. The act of doing so symbolises releasing the old and ushering in the New Year.
Persian New Year Food
It wouldn't be a great holiday without delicious Persian food. For Norouz, food is an important aspect, and special dishes are prepared during the Nowruz festivities. Often, these dishes will be centred around greens and herbs to symbolise freshness and renewal.
Some of the most iconic Persian New Year dishes are:
Samanu: Traditional Samanu is a paste made with germinated wheat and is heated for several hours.
Kolucha e Nowrozi: What celebrations would be complete without sweets? Kolucha e Nowrozi are cookies that are flavoured with rose water and either pistachios or poppy seeds.
Sabzi Polo: Sabzi Polo is a Norouz side dish that is made with seasoned rice and a variety of herbs. It is usually served with fish, and the exact recipe does vary from region to region.
Ajil: Ajil is a simple snack of seven nuts and dried fruits that is often used to welcome guests during the New Year.
Ash e Reshte: This dish is a popular soup that is on every Norouz menu. It usually includes chickpeas, lentils, onions and herbs.
Gaz: Gaz is a type of nougat that is usually served in small chunks and given as a gift during Nowruz.
Nowruz is more than just a single day.
During the Iran 1979 revolution, the new government tried to remove the Nowruz festival as the holiday's roots are pre-Islamic. However, this decision was met with fierce resistance from the Iranian public and the festival remained intact.
Such a strong reaction to a holiday is a testament to how beloved and deeply embedded Nowruz is in the Persian culture.
If you happen to be in Iran during this time, take the opportunity to celebrate this ancient holiday. Nowruz is a perfect reason filled with delicious food and rich cultural immersion to close the door on one chapter and begin again with a fresh slate.