Nowruz: Celebrating the Iranian new year

Nowruz: Celebrating the Iranian new year

With the Iranian new year falling on the first day of spring (March 21) and entering the year 1400, Arts & Culture Editor Sahar explores the country’s history and celebrations.

Nowruz literally translates to “new day” in Persian and is predominantly celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and other neighbouring countries. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring which marks the start of the new year.

I’ve many memories of spending Nowruz with my family, eating amazing food and exchanging gifts. It also gives me a chance to restart my new year’s resolutions from January 1.

Charshanbe Suri 

Charshanbe translates to “Wednesday” and Charshanbe Suri marks the celebrations on the Wednesday before Nowruz. Usually in the evening, people jump over mini bonfires and light off firecrackers or fireworks. The fire symbolises taking away ill health and problems, and once you jump over the fire it is replaced with warmth, energy, and good health. Being with family and friends, this part of the celebration always prompts me to reflect on the previous year and what I hope for in the year ahead. However, on years when I haven’t been able to create a bonfire, I settle for jumping over a candle in my bedroom.

Preparing for the new year 

Much like the spring cleaning we have in the UK, Iranians use the days in the run up to Nowruz to deep clean. This is a chance to declutter and bring fresh, positive energy to the new year. People also purchase flowers for extra colour and brightness.

Like many celebrations around the world, spending Nowruz with family and friends is an important aspect. Typically, young people will reach out to their elders as a sign of respect. There are gatherings and parties with plenty of food, nibbles and desserts. For those of us who are unable to visit family this year, video calls will have to do.

Another part of the build-up to Nowruz is setting up the Haft-Sin table. Haft-Sin translates as “seven S’s” and it is an arrangement of seven items, each symbolising something important for the new year.

Sabzeh (greenery/grass) is the symbol of rebirth and growth;

Samanu (a sweet paste) represents power and strength;

Senjed (a dried olive plant) symbolises love;

Somagh (a dried fruit powder) represents sunrise;

Serkeh (vinegar) is the symbol of patience;

Seeb (apple) represents beauty;

Seer (garlic) is the symbol of health and medicine.

Other important items include:

Eggs to represent fertility;

A mirror to symbolise self-reflection;

Candles to show enlightenment;

A goldfish to symbolise progress;

A book, which represents wisdom.

A lot of effort goes into presenting the Haft-Sin table and families will take countless photos together next to it.

Preparation’s over, now what?

The exact time that Nowruz begins differs every year as it is calculated using the Solar Hijri algorithmic calendar. This year it is at 09:37 GMT. I will want to make sure I’m by the Haft-Sin table beforehand, reflecting with my family on the previous year and what lies ahead. We will exchange gifts and then tuck into the delicious traditional Nowruz meal: sabzi polo ba mahi (herb infused rice with fish).

Sizdah bedar

The Nowruz holidays last 13 days. On the 13th day of the New Year, we usually have a picnic with loved ones outdoors to celebrate family and nature. The greenery grown for the Haft-Sin table is placed in running water, such as a lake or river. Some people tie a ribbon to it and make a wish. This day is also the Iranian version of April Fool’s Day, and many people play pranks on loved ones.

Overall, Nowruz is a celebration that focuses on family. Things are undoubtedly different this year but there are many virtual events happening all around the world and thanks to modern technology, family members are only a video call away.

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