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Nowruz, the New Year at the spring vernal equinox

The flower buds of yellow, violet, red and white crocuses of saffron bulbs intermingled with the blossoms of daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and Persian violets herald the arrival of Nowruz. The Persian New Year, a rebirth and rejuvenation, rightly occurs on the spring vernal equinox. Spring in Iran begins jubilantly with the flowing pristine streams percolating down mountains, the greening of the prairies, the flowering of fruit trees, and the germinating of assorted crops. It is thus surmised that the Nowruz spring celebration must have been observed since the inception of agriculture in northern Mesopotamia and Iran for at least 10,000 years.

Nowruz in Persian literally means the first day [of the New Year]. It is the most prominent seasonal celebration of the solar calendars. It was conceived by the agricultural people north of the Tropic of Cancer who have revered the sun (sols invictus), fire and light ever since. This contrasts with the lunar calendars as followed by the southern Semitic neighbors. In addition to Iran, Nowruz as a national holiday transcending class, color, creed, ethnicity, race, religion, or national origin, is currently commemorated by well over a dozen countries of nearly three hundred million inhabitants in central, south and west Asia, northwestern China, Asia Minor, and the Caucuses. In fact, the commoners and serfs in Europe and later by the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock though the mid-18th century also observed a New Year beginning in spring. Have you ever wondered why the 9th through the 12th months of the current Gregorian calendar, Latin derived September through December, are actually the 7th through the 10th months of the year? Wouldn’t that make January and February the 11th and 12th, thus March the first month according to Julian Calendar, an era in the 1st through the 4th centuries CE when Europe was still under Persian Mithraism influence?!

Nowruz commences with the festival of Chaharshanbe Suri at the last Tuesday night of the year. At this Zoroastrian fire ritual, everyone jumps over fire, singing a poem that translates as

O’ sacred Fire, take away my yellow sickness
give me in return your healthy red color!

The most symbolic manifestation showcased at Nowruz is the sofreh haft-seen. Onto a table covered with an antique hand-woven silk cloth are laid seven plant-derived items whose Persian names begin with the letter “S”:

  • Sabzeh- wheat and lentil germinations symbolizing rebirth
  • Senjed- the dried fruit of the oleaster tree symbolizing love
  • Seer-garlic symbolizing medicine; seeb-apples symbolizing beauty and earth
  • Somaqh-sumac berries symbolizing sunrise
  • Samanu- cooked germinated wheat for affluence
  • Serkeh-vinegar symbolizing ripeness, longevity, and perseverance
A round ticking clock, signifying the passage of time, a fishbowl with two gold fish (added later due to influences from China) signifying companionship and life, decorated eggs for fertility, and a saucer of coins from the five continents to reflect prosperity are also on display. The haft-seen table is completed with daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, a triple green, white, and red flickering candelabra and an ancient book of poems, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh the Persian epic book of the Kings, Rumi’s Mathnawi, Divan Hafez, or the Omar Khayyam’s Quatrains, typified by the poem The Nightingale Bemoans...

Everyone reaffirms their commitment to one or more of the following virtues, namely, to volunteerism, altruism, philanthropy, benevolence and above all to advancing humanism as the pinnacles of life. The belief in one commandment of treating others as you would expect to be treated, conjures up in mind with the acclaimed Persian poem by the 13th century Sa’adi:

All humans are members of one frame,
Since all at first, from the same essence, came.

When by hard fortune one limb is oppressed,
The other members lose their desired rest.

If thou feel’st not for others’ misery,
A human is no name for thee.

A Nowruz holiday is concluded at the Sizdah Bedar Picnic, which falls on or close to April fool’s Day. Every family spends the day outdoor in parks, crop fields, or the orchards, when they play, sing, dance, eat and drink. The singles tie knots with grass blades to wish for a life companion, the elders nostalgically compare this Nowruz with those passed while remembering the deceased with melancholy, and the children look forward restlessly to many more Nowruz celebrations to follow.

Article by Davood Rahni, In loving tribute to the eternal noble IZADI People (Yazidis)

Nowruz History & Traditions

Nowruz, in word, means "New Day". It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called "Saal Tahvil". Nowruz with its' uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years.

Iranians consider Nowruz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the new year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the "Haft Seen" with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter "S"; this was not the order in ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice).

Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire.

After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins), usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and "Aajil" (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.


The 13th day of the new year is called "Sizdah Bedar" and spent mostly outdoors. People will leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a festive picnic. It is a must to spend Sizdah Bedar in nature. This is called Sizdah Bedar and is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after "Sizdah Bedar". Iranians regard 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.

Chahar-Shanbeh Soori

Another tradition of the new year celebrations is "Chahar-Shanbeh Soori". It takes place before Saal Tahvil, at the last Wednesday of the old year, well actually Tuesday night! People set up bon fire, young and old leap over the fires with songs and gestures of merriment like:

  • (Sorkhi-e to az man) Give me your beautiful red color
  • (Zardi-e man az to) And take back my sickly pallor!
It means: I will give you my yellow color (sign of sickness), and you give me your fiery red color (sign of healthiness). This is a purification rite and 'soori' itself means red and fiery.

Nowruz Greetings

  • Nowruz Mobarak (Happy Nowruz, Happy New Year)
  • Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to you)
  • Nowruz Pirooz (Wishing you a Prosperous New Year)
  • Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years)