Nowruz festival marks beginning of
Washington – Some 2 million Iranian Americans – and other
immigrants from neighboring countries that were once part of the Persian Empire
– are celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20 with rituals
that go back thousands of years.
The rituals find their symbolic roots in Zoroastrianism and its
dualistic struggle between the forces of good and evil, but with the advent of
Islam 14 centuries ago, many of the traditions were modified.
A few days before the New Year, Persians observe a Zoroastrian
festival known as Chahar Shanbeh Suri. The evening’s rituals
include a symbolic purification by fire in which people jump over bonfires to
rid themselves of illness and misfortune.
The New Year celebration then begins with the spring equinox,
and the Nowruz festivities continue for 13 days.
Iranian community and student groups throughout the Untied
States observe the traditional Persian holidays. Some groups refrain from
participating in bonfire jumping because of the fire hazard, but all of them
celebrate Nowruz with Persian music, dancing and a traditional
The traditional dinner at Nowruz features an herbed rice
and fish dish called sabzi palau ba mahi accompanied by a hearty noodle
soup. As always the meal is rounded out with sweet Persian
Families then greet the New Year in a purified state with a bath
and a new set of clothes. The first few minutes of the New Year are spent around
a traditional table setting known as the Haft Seen, or “Seven S” with
seven items that begin with the letter “S.”
Haft Seen goes back to the pre-Islamic traditions of
Zoroastrianism with each item representing one of the seven creations and the
seven holy immortals protecting them.
Among the seven “S” items on the table is sabzeh, or
green shoots, which are seven wheat or lentil seedlings symbolizing resurrection
and the new life to come. Other “S” items may include samanu or
sohan, sweets representing joy; sib, an apple representing health
and beauty; senjed, lotus fruit symbolizing love; sir, garlic to
ward off evil; sekhe, coins for prosperity; sonbal, a hyacinth
flower; sumac, a Persian spice; or serkeh, vinegar.
The table setting also should include painted eggs to represent
fertility, a goldfish bowl to represent the world’s oceans, and candles with
reflecting mirrors to represent the eternal fire – the ultimate purifying symbol
of Zoroastrianism. Some families also include a book of poetry by the
Persian masters Hafez or Firdousi and a Quran, often used for
On the 13th day of the New Year, known as Sizdeh-be-dar,
Iranians traditionally leave the cities for picnics in the countryside. The
wheat or lentil sprouts are tossed into running water to symbolize the throwing
away of everyday cares.
Nowruz ceremonies have become more diverse through the
years, particularly as the traditions have spread through Afghan, Tajik, Uzbek,
Azerbaijani, Kurdish and Parsee cultures, but all of those who observe the
celebration today carry forward a timeless expression of ancient Persian
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
... Payvand News - 3/19/06 ... --