Nowruz, the Iranian New Year

VERSION FRANÇAISE

Nowruz, also known as Nevruz in Turkish, or even Newroz in Kurdish, is the Persian New Year, celebrated in Iran but also in other countries that share the Persian heritage, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, etc. The first day of the Persian year corresponds more or less to the first day of spring, or to the spring equinox, to be more exact, that takes place every year between March, 20th and 22nd.

Origin

The Persian word Norouzstands for “new day”. Although opinion differs, most of the researchers agree that the origins of this celebration go back to the ancestral traditions of Persia. The oldest preserved documents that mention the Nowruz celebrations date back to the 2nd century BC in Persia. According to Iranian and Zoroastrian* traditions, Norouz represents the day when God created the universe.

According to the Shâhnâmeh, the great mythical story of Iranian kings written in the 10th century by Ferdowsi, the great Iranian poet, Norouz corresponds to the coronation of the mythical Persian king Djamshid, celebrated to honour his virtuous soul for having fought for peace and freedom for his people. The king himself decided to celebrate it and this celebration continued taking place over the years.

The traditions

As time went by, the celebration traditions of Nowruz developed, integrating cultural and religious influences from different regions in which the celebration took place.

Tchâhâr Shanbeh Souri(literally “wednesday on fire”): the last tuesday night of the solar year, which falls in March, is always marked by a big popular gathering throughout which a fire is lit. The custom is to try jumping over the flames, in a symbolic gesture of capturing the strength and the vital energy from the fire, the Zoroastrian emblem of health and well-being. Many dances and rituals also take place throughout the festival. Several popular traditions and ceremonies also play their role in the Tchâhâr Shanbeh Souri: offering dried fruit mix as well as pistachios, nuts, etc., as a symbol of shared happiness in the past year.

Roi Tahmasp I et Humayun célébrant Norouz, peinture XVIe siècle. Palais de Chehel Sotoun, Ispahan.
Roi Tahmasp I and Humayun celebrating Nowruz, painting from the 16th century. Chehel Sotoun Palace, Ispahan.

Another tradition consists of breaking earthenware pots or other pieces of crockery with the aim of frightening bad fortune away.

On the same day, children dress up and go ring at neighbors’ doors to ask for candy, while banging on pans. This tradition probably has its origins in women that, in olden times, rang at neighbors’ doors to ask for food while wearing a disguise, so as not to not be recognized.

In the days preceding New Year’s Day, characters named Hadji Firouz walk around the streets wearing black and red makeup, while singing and dancing, celebrating the New Year.

HajjiFiruz
Character of Hadji Firouz

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Preparations and rituals of the celebration

Although costumes may vary from one country to another, we can find similar characteristics between them. The preparations and rituals begin as early as February. Every household does a big tidy-up.

Sabzi polo bâ mâhi: this is the traditional New Year’s dish, made up of rice with herbs such as parsley, dill and chives, and also fish. This dish is also served with koukou sabzi, a kind of herb omelette.

Kookoo-sabzi
Kookoo-sabzi

‘eïd didani, “the family visits”: it is also customary for people to call in on their grandparents, uncles and aunts’ houses on the first day of the New Year. It is usually the young people that pay visits to the oldest members of their family from whom they receive gifts.

The haft sin: this is the main Nowruz tradition; the positioning on a table of seven elements that hold a high symbolic value in this celebration, the name of each one of these elements beginning with the letter “s”. They represent the seven creations and the seven immortals that protect the people according to the Iranian traditions. Each family tries to lay the table as beautiful as possible because it will be seen by every visitor throughout the celebration time, and as the table represents their taste and lifestyle. The table remains decorated until the 13th day of the New Year. The seven elements vary from one region to another:

  • Sabzeh: after the beginning of March, people make germinate wheat seeds or lentils in a plate decorated with a red ribbon. The wheat and lentils, once they have grown, create a bed of highshootswhich symbolizes the renaissance.
  • Sir: garlic, the symbol of medicine
  • Samanou: very sweet cream made of wheat germs, the symbol of abundance
  • Senjed: dried fruit from the jujube, the symbol of love
  • Somâq: sumac berries, the symbol of health and sun
  • Sib: apple, the symbol of beauty and health
  • Serkeh: vinegar, the symbol of age and patience
  • Sonbol: hyacinth, the symbol of the arrival of spring
  • Sekkeh: coins, the symbol of prosperity and fortune
  • We also find other objects such as red fish, the symbol of life; candles, the symbol of happiness; eggs, the symbol of fertility, the Coran or even the Shâhnâmeh.
Haft_Sin
Table of Haft sin

Sizdah bedar, “outside thirteenth”: Nowruz celebrations last thirteen days in total, a number that goes back to ancient Persian beliefs. These beliefs suggested that by the end of the twelfth constellation that made up the cycle of life, a thirteenth constellation incarnated the chaos that makes the Earth sink. Thereby, in order to avoid this drama of the thirteenth time, the thirteenth day of the year needs to be lived in a way that allows people to avoid disorder at home and bad luck, getting out of their houses and showing their attachment to nature. It is also customary to go out and have a picnic with the family. They believe that it brings happiness throughout the whole year. At the end of the day, the haft sin’s sabzehare thrown into running water (as for instance, a river) as they are believed to have contracted all bad luck during this time. This is to make diseases and bad luck go away in this newly started year. Prior to that, the young single women tie between them stems of sabzeh, symbolizing their will to get married in the year.

Nowruz has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List since 2009.

Author: Estelle Pautret

Translator : Gabriela Debora Gondim Lages


*Zoroastrianism is a religion that developed in Persia in the 7th century BC and has dominated Iran until the expansion of Islam. As a monotheism before the name developped by the prophet Zarathustra, Zoroastrianism believes in soul immortality and in a single god ; god of the sun, moon and stars. It still exists a Zoroastrian minority in Iran today.


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