Now Ruz Celebrations
I want to take this opportunity to wish one and all a joyous and prosperous New Year on March 20-21, 2007 because Iranians are a very special part of my global family.
One of my happiest memories of Iran is the Now Ruz celebration, a thirteen-day period of renewal and joy that begins on the first day of spring. This holiday is observed throughout many parts of central Asia as well as in Iran because it is not exclusive to any particular religious group. Unlike Muslim holidays, which follow the lunar calendar and thus sometimes observances shift their times and dates each year, Now Ruz is always observed on the first day of spring. It's time to put on new clothes and gather together for parties and picnics. Schools, government offices, and most businesses close for the two-week period.
I was a teacher of English to high school and adult students in Iran during the 1960s. An Iranian engineer, married to an American woman and living in Rasht, invited me to join him and his extended family to travel to the southern city of Shiraz for my first Now Ruz holiday. We attended a family reunion at a picnic in his father’s orchard outside the city. But first, we had to ford a shallow river. Family, friends, and servants transported beautiful carpets, a large samovar, and many containers of food – enough to serve a gathering of two dozen people! from their homes to the countryside for the occasion.
I celebrated my second Now Ruz with my own parents, who had timed their around-the-world trip to spend some time with me during the school holiday. I met them in Tehran and took them back to my home in Rasht. Then, a few days later, we boarded another bus going north to Ardabil so they could visit this ancient capital of Persia.
Traditional says that King Jamshid established Now Ruz as the first day of the Persian month of Farvadin during the Sassanian era (226 – 652 AD). But the Haft Seen custom is at least 2,000 years old. Some scholars date its origins in the Zoroastrian religion; others think its beginnings go back to Babylonian agrarian celebrations.
Until most Persians converted to Islam sharab – wine was originally part of celebration. Today, mirrors, boiled eggs (celebrating rebirth), sweets, candles, a goldfish swimming in a bowl and the Qur’an usually adorn the holiday table. Observant male heads of household recite religious verses as they welcome the spring equinox. Sometimes children also jump across a bonfire as they recall the Zoroastrian tradition of the Sacred Fire. The centerpiece of the holiday table, however, is the seven ‘s’es. (1) Sekeh – a gold or shiny coin represents prosperity. (2) Samanu – a sweet wheat pudding shows the sweetness of life. (3) Sabzi – green vegetables of herbs (sprouted a few days ago in a bowl) symbolize fertility. (4) Sonbon, a hyacinth flower, signifies new life. The next three items are typical foods: (5) Seer – garlic – a major ingredient in Persian cooking; (6) Senjed - a small native dried fruit; and (7) Serkeh – vinegar to ward off bitterness. Sib – apples – or sumagh – sumac – a common seasoning for cheloh kebab can also be displayed if the other items of food are not readily available.
As you sit down to a springtime picnic, may good health, prosperity, and joyful family reunions be yours! As we are all "Irish" when we celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17th, we can also all be "Iranians" and celebrate Now Ruz this year.