Iran: The New Year "Nowrooz"

Nushin Namazi will  celebrate the Iranian New Year:  It is celebrated on the first day of Spring and it's an event Iranians have celebrated for the past 2,500 years. Nowrooz (No Ruz or Norooz) is the Iranian new year festival. The word itself literally means "new day" in Persian  language, and the festival marks the beginning of the solar year as well as the new year on the Iranian and several other national calendars.  At its core, the Nowrooz festival celebrates the awakening of the natural life. This awakening symbolizes the triumph of good, winning against the evil forces of darkness that are represented by the Winter. Nowrooz is the point when the oppressive presence of the cold Winter finally begins to retrieve with the commencement of the lively and hopeful Spring. This symbolic and poetic change corresponds to the mathematical instance of the sun leaving the zodiac of Pisces and entering the zodiacal sign of Aries, also known as the Spring Equinox.   Nowrooz represents much of what Iranian/Persian character, history, politics and religion are all about. For centuries, Persians have applied the Nowrooz spirit to every dark challenge that has come their way. This spirit has made Nowrooz far more than just a New year celebration! 

The renewal of nature is the essence of this multi-millennium old tradition. Originally held as a spring festival, it is believed to have first been acknowledged officially and named "Nowrooz" by a mythical Persian emperor, Jamshid. Others have credited the Achaemenid Dynasty (12th B.C.) for institutionalizing the Nowrooz festival. 
Throughout their often stormy history, the Persian people have endured the darkest times of hardship, civil wars, world wars, foreign occupations and the like. Persians have celebrated the height of human civilization, scientific and military achievement through the spirit of Nowrooz. Such a unifying spirit has often made Nowrooz the target of much animosity by foreign invaders and anti-national forces throughout the history of Iran. Alexander the Great, the Arab conquerors and many others tried to eliminate this holiday and wipe it off the Persian cultural landscape, only to find it preserved by the masses.

Chahar Shanbeh Soori: The Bonfire The Nowrooz holiday season includes several symbolic and meaningful celebrations and rituals beginning with the last Wednesday of the year, called the Chahar Shanbeh Soori (translation yields "Wednesday Fire").  On Tuesday evening (the night before the last Wednesday) every family celebrates the Chahar Shanbeh Soori. At the center of this traditional celebration is giving thanks for the fortune of having made it through another healthy year and to exchange any remaining paleness and evil with the life and warmth of the fire. Chahar Shanbeh Soori is deeply rooted in Iranians' Zoroastrian past (Persian people's dominant religion prior to Islam). The part of this night especially popular with the youngsters is the bonfire. Every family gathers several piles of wood or brush to be lit shortly after the sunset. 

All family members line up and take turns jumping safely along (and over) the burning piles, singing to the fire: 
"Sorkheeyeh toe az man; zardeeyeh man az toe." This translates as: "Your redness (health) is mine; my paleness (pain) is yours."  Although a recent addition and generally against the law in the urban areas, the sights and sounds of fireworks are very common to this night.  Another routine of the Chahar Shanbeh Soori festival is the Iranian version of Trick or Treating associated with the Western Halloween night. Flocks of often young trick or treaters, hidden under a traditional Chador (veil) go from door to door banging a spoon against a metal bowl asking for treats or money. 

Another old and almost obsolete Chahar Shanbeh Soori ritual is Falgoosh (fortune hearing!) This ritual was carried out usually by young women wanting to know their chances of finding the "Mr. Right" in the coming year. Falgoosh is the act of standing in a dark corner spot or behind a fence and listening to the conversations of the passers by and trying to interpret their statements or the subject of their dialogue as an answer to one's question(s)! This is analogous to calling a psychic reader to find out your fortune!!!  In the past several decades falgoosh has gradually become an almost unacceptable and "politically incorrect" ritual and is seldom practiced in the major urban areas.

Haji Firooz: The Herald of New Year, is the black-faced character who is the traditional herald of the Nowrooz season and begins to wander the streets and alleyways in his red costume weeks before the end of the year. The sound of his songs and the sight of his dance are often analogous to hearing Christmas music in a shopping mall, telling all that Nowrooz is in the air. Although the blackness of his skin has been the source of some racial controversy in Iranian intellectual circles, Haji's intentions and spirit have always been well received and loved by the people.

As implied by its timing and natural significance, Nowrooz is a time of renewal and symbolizes rebirth, awakening, cleanliness and newness. A national tradition in almost all regions of Iran is the annual Norooz cleaning, which is likely to share its roots with the Spring Cleaning in the American culture. Families wash their rugs and draperies, clean and wax their furniture and often repaint their homes' interior. 

An almost iconic tradition associated with Nowrooz is when every person buys at least one set of new clothes. On the new year day, which is the first day of the month of Farvardin (March 21), families visit elders and friends in their new clothes. The spirit of Nowrooz is visible on this day!

Haft Seen: The seven symbols: On the night before Nowrooz, the entire family gathers around a table (or spread) with an arrangement of several items, each of which symbolizes a wish or theme. Of all the items in this arrangement, seven of them, starting with the Persian letter "seen" (the English "S"), must always be included. The Persian translation of number seven is "haft" -- hence the name Haft Seen.  The Haft Seen spread is usually put out a couple of weeks before the Nowrooz day and symbolizes the holiday season and its special mood very much like the Christmas Tree for the Western holidays. 

Zoroastrians celebrated the creation of life by offering their deity, Ahura Mazda, seven trays, full of symbolic objects representing truth, justice, good thoughts, good deeds, prosperity, virtue, immortality and generosity. 

The seven items starting with the letter "seen" in the contemporary Haft Seen are: 

Other items often included with the Haft Seen are apples, sugar cookies or pastries called Shirini, a mirror, candles, eggs, and a bowl with goldfish. Looking at the goldfish at the turn of the year is believed to bring good luck and fortune.

Seezdah Bedar: Dodging the bad number: On the thirteenth day of the new year, which also marks the end of the Nowrooz break for the school children, families leave their houses and head for the outdoors where they eat, play games, and celebrate a happy and healthy holiday season.  This tradition is called Seezdah Bedar (seezdah means thirteen) which in English translates to "getting rid of thirteen". This fun and exciting outing involves all family members and is intended to end the holiday season on a relaxing and positive note. The concept of avoiding the number thirteen is mainly to symbolize the will and power to deal with all evil in the new year. 

An interesting ritual performed at the end of the picnic day is to throw away the Sabzee from the Nowrooz Haft Seen table. The sabzee is supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate hiding on the path of the family throughout the coming year! Touching someone else's sabzee on this thirteenth day or bringing it home is therefore not a good idea and may result in absorbing their pain and hardship. 

Another meaningful ritual performed with the dumping of the sabzee is that young single women tie the sabzee leave(s) prior to discarding it, symbolizing the wish to be tied in a marriage by the Seezdah Bedar of next year! The young ladies are often heard whispering the following rhyme while tying the leaves:  "Sal-e deegar, khune-yeh showhar, bacheh baghal!" This translates as "Next year, in the husband's house, with a baby in arms!"

Greetings: What to say on Nowrooz: Greetings and wishes are aplenty around Nowrooz time. The following is a list of common greetings, what they mean. 

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005