arrival of the spring equinox on Sunday will cue
Persians to party. Far from a gardening rite, the
equilibrium of day and night marks the start of
Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
The holiday is the
most revered celebration in the Iranian world. (In
ancient times, Persia included the countries of
Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Egypt,
Georgia, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Israel, Palestine,
Pakistan, Persian Gulf States, Syria, Tajikistan,
Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and
portions of western China and eastern Greece.)
"[Nowruz] is a
celebration of the renewal of nature after the
slumber of winter, so to speak, and along with it
the human response to that awakening of the
Earth," said Mahnaz Afkhami, director of the
Foundation for Iranian Studies in Bethesda,
The Persian New
Year has been celebrated for at least 3,800 years.
Its roots stretch back to Zoroastrian, the world's
oldest religions. While Nowruz customs and
traditions have evolved with time, the spirit of
Nowruz remains the same, Afkhami said.
David Rahni, a
professor at Pace University, helps organize the
Persian Iranian Parade in New York City. Now in
its second year, the parade, which will be held
this Sunday, celebrates the contributions of
Rahni said Nowruz
is the common thread uniting religions and
nationalities in the Persian world and beyond.
"If there's one major annual celebration that
is universally commemorated by them all, it is
indeed Nowruz," he said.
For Iranians around
the world, Nowruz celebrations began on Tuesday
night marking what's known as Wednesday Eve (think
Christmas and Christmas Eve). They will continue
until April 1, the 13th day of spring.
On the last Tuesday
night of the old year, Persians typically gather
around bonfires to celebrate Chahar Shanbeh Suri,
a celebratory ritual of the quest for
enlightenment, health, and happiness in the year
ahead. Celebrants jump over fires as they chant
the Persian phrase, "Give me your beautiful
red color/Take back my sickly pallor."
is supposed to clean the body of illness, bad
feelings, or unhealthy things that might be in the
body—getting rid of that and picking up the
warmth, the glow, of the fire," Afkhami, the
Foundation for Iranian Studies director, said.
On the first day of
spring, Nowruz day, families gather around a table
set with the Haft seen arrangement of seven
items. Each item begins with the letter s
in Persian and symbolizes the hoped for happiness,
abundance, and health in the New Year.
For example, there
is an apple, the Persian word for which is seeb.
The fruit symbolizes health and robustness. Garlic
(seer) is said to ward off evil and
illness. Sprouts of wheat (samanoo)
symbolize good crops of growth and plenty, Afkhami
celebration continues for 13 days with gatherings
of relatives and friends to renew friendships,
bury grievances, and exchange gifts and wishes. It
is common for Persians to take time off from work
On the 13th, and
final, day people head outdoors and into the
countryside for a picnic. It is a final time to
toss out the old and ring in the new. This is
symbolized by the tossing into a stream the wheat
that had been growing on the Haft seen table since
before the new year.
It is also
customary for young women to tie green shoots
together to symbolize their hope for marriage in
the coming year. "You tie a knot that
symbolizes the tying of your destiny with the
destiny of another person," Afkhami said.
When the theocratic
government of Iran came to power in 1979, Nowruz
was banned. The government wanted to recognize
only Islamic holidays and considered Nowruz a
pagan celebration, Afkhami said.
people wouldn't have any of it," she said.
"It's the most popular holiday in Iran, and
people continued to celebrate it anyway. Then,
finally, the government let go and lifted the
Geography - edited by CAIS