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NOWRUZ: SPRING IS IN THE AIR

haft sin
By Fariba Amini
Photo by Alieh Saadatpour
Originally Posted: March 31, 2011
Updated: March 20, 2014

Spring is in the air and it’s time to celebrate Nowruz or ‘New Day’ the beginning of the Persian New Year, coinciding with the onset of spring. This ancient Zoroastrian tradition is observed by over 187 million people from Persian speaking nations and more Americans are joining in on the festivities too. In 2014, Nowruz will begin on March 20 at 8:27 p.m. local time in Tehran. 

At UMD both undergraduate and graduate Iranian Student Foundations celebrate the New Year with traditional Nowruz celebrations including a table of haft sin, New Year’s dishes, music, and entertainment. The undergraduate student group (ISF) hosted this past weekend their Annual Chaharshanbeh Suri, or Iranian festival of fire, where students and community members jump over fire to rid themselves of fear in preparation for a healthy and prosperous new year.   

Nowruz is recognized as the holiest and most joyful festival of the Zoroastrian year, starting on the vernal Equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and spring begins, on or around March 21. 
 
 “Nowruz is by far the most widely observed ancient festival celebrated not just in the modern countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, but all over the Iranian Plateau, in Western Asia and beyond,” said Persian Language Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak. “In the past two centuries or so Nowruz has been redefined as a calendric marker, transcending religious or national affiliation and used as the surest signal for the coming of spring and end of harsh winter weather in the entire region," he said. 

Celebrating Nowruz

Days prior to Nowruz, Iranian families clean their spaces and put on new clothes. A sofreh (cloth) is spread on the floor or on a table and several items beginning with the letter S are laid on a table of haft sin (or seven S’s), seven being a lucky number.
The haft sin table may include the following items, each representing special meaning:
  • sabzeh/sprouted grass or wheat- for rebirth of nature
  • seer/garlic- for health
  • sonbol/hyacinth- for perfume
  • sumagh/sumaq- for sunrise
  • sekkeh/coin- for prosperity
  • serkeh/vinegar- for patience
  • senjed/dried fruit of Oleaster tree- for love 
  • samanoo/wheat germ- for affluence
  • seeb/apple- for health
     

Goldfish in a bowl (for life), a mirror (for light), a copy of the Koran (or a holy book), colored eggs (for fertility), candles (for happiness) and Persian sweets (for sweetness) are additional items used to decorate the table.
The special food designated for the Nowruz celebration consists of Sabzi Polo (rice with herbs), fish and vegetable paddies.  

Just prior to the beginning of the New Year, the family elder sits with their immediate family around the haft sin table.  Once the New Year is announced on the radio or television, everyone gets up and kisses each other. The elders give crisp, new money and sweets to the younger members of the family. When the day is over, and for the next few days, Iranians visit one another and offer New Year’s greetings, taking flowers and sweets to each other. 

The official holiday in Iran is 13 days long, where people vacation or take a break. On the 13th day, they travel to the country or to a park where they celebrate Sizdah Bedar, which essentially means getting the 13 (thirteen being unlucky) out of your system for the coming year. On this day the sprouted wheat, which by now is wilted, is thrown into a flowing stream. Traditionally, unmarried young women tie the grass in hopes of tying the knot in the coming year.

"Iranian-Americans and Afghan-Americans, as well as other peoples who connect their identities to Anatolia or the Caucuses, to Central or Western Asia consider themselves heir to Nowruz because they have seen it observed in their traditional spaces—their legends and literary traditions,” said Karimi-Hakkak. 

Nowruz in the U.S.

For the first time in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Nowruz in its formal calendar as the festival of Persian origin that has been celebrated for over 3,000 years.  The UN calls Nowruz, “An affirmation of life in harmony with nature, the awareness of the inseparable link between constructive labour and natural cycles of renewal and the solicitous and respectful attitude towards natural sources of life.”

On March 22, 2010, the United States Congress acknowledged Nowruz as an official holiday for Iranian-Americans, wishing “the people of Iran and all those who observe this holiday, a prosperous new year.”

This year, President Obama sent Nowruz greetings to the nearly half million Iranian-Americans and other Persian speaking people around the world.  

Nowruz at Maryland

Maryland's Roshan Institute for Persian Studies will celebrate Nowruz with their event:

"A Thousand Years of the Persian Book" 
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Library of Congress, North East Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, S.E. Washington, D.C.
For more information and the schedule of events, click here

Previous events related to the Persian New Year:

Chaharshanbeh Suri (Festival of Fire) 

Saturday, March 15, 2014, 5:30-11 PM
Montgomery County Fair Grounds
Enjoy an evening of sports, dancing and fire jumping. 
Sponsor: ISF