March 20th, 2019
Seven years ago, I wrote a blog on the celebration of Now-Ruz (New Day) or the Persian New Year. At that time, the talk of war against Iran was the rhetoric of Washington. Seven years later the rhetoric remains the same and the economic sanctions against Iran have been re-imposed. But threats of war and economic hardship have not dampened the spirits of Iranians in Iran when it comes to celebrating their long cherished festivities of Now-Ruz.
The celebration of Now-Ruz, takes effect at the exact astronomical beginning of Spring, known as the vernal equinox. Iranians in the diaspora and those living in Iran will celebrate the arrival of the Now-Ruz on March 20th at exactly 2:58:27 PM PDT.
Now-Ruz has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years. Its rituals and traditions date back to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that existed until 7th century A.D. before the Arab invasion and the enforcement of Islam. Today, besides Iran, Now-Ruz is celebrated by nearly 300 million people from several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan and of course, the Iranian diaspora living in all corners of the globe.
In 2009, Now-Ruz was recognized by the U.N. as a tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.”
In preparation for Now-Ruz, Iranians embark on the spring-cleaning of their homes, even make or buy a new set of clothes, and bake pastries in anticipation of visiting guests when gifts are exchanged and feasts enjoyed. Bakeries, food stores, bazaars (even those here in Los Angeles) are abuzz with shoppers stocking up on sweets, pastries, and all the herbs and condiments needed for baking and preparing traditional Persian dishes.
I left Iran when I was 10 before the Islamic Revolution, and remember receiving crisp bank notes from my parents and relatives. Banks would issue newly printed paper bills and gold coins which were offered as gifts known as eidi.
The rituals surrounding the celebration of Now-Ruz are rich with symbolism and ceremony. They begin on the last Wednesday of winter with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori (Eve of Wednesday), a fire-jumping festival, where people create small bonfires in their neighborhoods and jump over them as the sun sets.
Parents join in with their children and jump over the flames inviting happiness and abundance while releasing and letting go of darkness and negativity by chanting: “Offer me your lovely red hue and take away my sickly pallor.” With fire signifying light (day), the symbol of all that is good, and dark (night), the unknown and all that is evil, celebrants partaking in the fire festival look forward to the arrival of spring bringing longer days and new beginnings.
As a child growing up in Iran, I remember the minstrels or troubadours, known as Haji Firuz, who sang and danced in the streets dressed in bright red and yellow satin poufy pants and shirts, spreading good cheer and bringing merriment to neighborhoods.
Another tradition, somewhat resembling the trick-or-treat of Halloween, included young men who disguised themselves as women under chadors (long veils) and went from street to street banging on pots and pans, shaking tambourines and raising raucous, warding off evil or any dark negative spirits. All this was done in jest as seeing a boy or young man in such a disguise invited laughs and more laughs.
Now-Ruz celebrations last for 13 days. As a child, Now-Ruz for me meant a school holiday lasting for 13 days. In fact, most businesses throughout the country would shut down for the duration of Now-Ruz. Everyone was on holiday!
A major feature of Now-Ruz is the preparation of the “Haft-Seen,” (seven “S’s”); a special display of seven specific offerings each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi.
Typically, the “Haft-Seen” includes the following: “seeb” or apple (promotes beauty and good health), “seer” or garlic (wards off bad omen), “samanou” (a sweet pudding, symbolizing affluence), “sabze” or wheat-germ (representing rebirth) grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year, “sek-keh” or coin, preferably gold (for wealth and abundance), “senjed” (dried fruit from lotus tree, symbolizing love), and “somagh” or sumac (color of sunrise). In addition, there will also be a mirror (symbol for the sky), a goldfish in a bowl (life force), lit candles symbolizing fire and promoting enlightenment, colored eggs (symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth), sweets to spread sweetness and a book of poems by Hafiz or Rumi.
The Now-Ruz festivities end on the 13th day known as “Sizdah Bedar” (out with the 13th), and it is celebrated outdoors. Staying indoors is seen as a bad omen and families spend the day outside in parks and in the countryside near streams, rivers, and lakes, enjoying a festive picnic.
The “sabze” or plate of wheat-germ that was the centerpiece of the Haft-Seen is taken on this picnic so that young unmarried women wishing for a husband will tie a knot between the green shoots (symbolizing a marital bond) and toss it into running water.
Despite the Islamic Regime’s attempts to do away with Now-Ruz, calling it un-Islamic and pagan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring continues in Iran
Conquerors have come and gone, dynasties have risen and fallen, and the plans for war may have been penciled in, but Now-Ruz is in ink and etched into the cultural fabric of Iranians. Now-Ruz is a reminder that the darkness is fleeting and the day will soon be longer than the night.
Please refer to the links shared below, to learn more about Now-Ruz:
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.