Norwuz is Farsi for “The New Day,” and marks the start of the Persian New Year. This major event is celebrated by tens of millions of Iranian peoples all over the world (namely in Central and South Asia, Northwestern China, the Middle-East, and the Balkans). It’s one of the world’s most ancient holidays, and it’s one of the few pre-Islamic traditions still widely practiced in Iran.
Though it has origins in the ancient Zoroastrian religion — with which it is still associated — Norwuz has come to be celebrated by a variety of cultures and faiths that adhere to the Iranian calendar, which recognizes the start of the new year on the day of the vernal equinox, when the Earth’s axis is “straight,” tilting neither away or toward the sun. Given the diversity of the cultures that celebrate it, the festivities can be incredibly variable.
Indeed, Nowruz incorporates just about every element we could imagine from our Western holidays: feasting, fireworks, the exchanging of gifts, thanksgiving, costuming, spring cleaning, spending time with loved ones, and even something akin to trick-or-treating.
Perhaps the most iconic custom associated with Norwuz — and the one maintained by all the different cultures that celebrate it —is the Haft-Seen. Also known as the “Seven S’s, this is a traditional table setting comprising seven symbolic items that are meant to represent the elements of life. In Zoroastrianism, they also corresponded to “immortal divinities,” or angels (it’s believed that the concept of angels first emerged in this faith, and came to influence Christianity and Islam). These items, and their significance, include:
- Sabzeh - wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish - symbolizing rebirth
- Samanu - a sweet pudding made from wheat germ - symbolizing affluence
- Senjed - the dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love
- Sīr - garlic - symbolizing medicine
- Sīb - apples - symbolizing beauty and health
- Somaq - sumac berries - symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
- Serkeh - vinegar - symbolizing age and patience
In addition to these core values and concepts are many others that are typically included:
- Sonbol - Hyacinth (plant)
- Sekkeh - Coins - representative of wealth
- Traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
- Aajeel - dried nuts, berries and raisins
- Lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
- A mirror (symbolizing cleanness and honesty)
- Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family (fertility)
- A bowl of water with goldfish (life within life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving). As an essential object of the Nowruz table, the goldfish is also “very ancient and meaningful,” and has deep connection to Zoroastrianism.
- Rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
- The national colors of a given country, for a patriotic touch
- A holy book, such as the Avesta, Qur’an,or Kitáb-i-Aqdas and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafiz)
Below are some examples of Norwuz table that incorporates all the main objects — and then some. Given the sheer variety of items, and the ability to personalize the arrangement, no one Norwuz table looks exactly the same way. See if you can identify the major components.
Back when I worked at a pet store, I used to receive a lot Iranian customers in a short span of time who were looking to purchase some goldfish for Nowruz, which is how I first learned about the the holiday. It’s definitely one of the most delightful and colorful holidays I’ve ever read up on, and I highly encourage you all to learn more about it, and there are far more interesting traditions and concepts that I simply don’t have the time to cover. Needless to say, it’s also a nice change of pace to read something pleasant about Iran.
I wish all of my Iranian readers out there a Happy Norwuz! Feel free to weigh in with your own personal accounts or information.