Nowruz, the New Year
Nowruz, the New Year
"...l hope people everywhere will join in observing this Day (Nowruz). At a time of crisis, upheaval and change, including in the very regions where the holiday is rooted, let the spirit of Nowruz prevail." This was the message of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the International Day of Nowruz, 2011
International Nowruz Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/64/253 of 2010, at the initiative of several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan).
Nowruz as a Concept
Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition observed by numerous peoples, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities.
As the spring's footsteps start tickling the ears, lilies, daffodils and narcissus wake up to bloom, the impatient Persians awaiting the spring, set up a colorful celebration to give it a red carpet welcome. Nowruz is the Persians' longest and most cherished festivity, on which all Persians celebrate the New Year with the nature's resurrection from withered winter. It is deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism and counts as the oldest Iranian festival. Nowruz ancientness, variety, colorfulness, and rich symbolism mark it off from its peers in other nations and countries.
Nowruz is the Celebration of Life; it is determined according to the spring equinox and coincides with March 21, or the previous/following day, marking the start of the spring in the northern hemisphere.
Features of Nowruz
Nowruz's characteristic herald, the old tambourine man, Hajji Firuz, with black-painted face and a red garb on, goes out in the cities and villages and while singing cheerful notes, spreads high spirits and delight among the public. He is the messenger of health, power, happiness and abundance in New Year. His traditional musical instruments are trumpet and tambourine; while his traditional song is "Hajji Firuz-e, Saali Ye Ruz-e", which means "It is Hajji Firuz, coming only once a year". Along with his troupe of musicians, he strolls on the streets, alleyways, and other passages entertaining people. Generous people impressed by the performance often present the artists with some tip and at the end of the performance the members are invited to a nice Nowruzian meal, and finally granted an Eidi (Nowruz gift).
Traditions of Nowruz
Esfand, the last month of the year is the high time for a welcoming preparation. To begin with, the housekeepers set out to do the spring-cleaning, "Khaane-Tekaani" in Persian, which mainly entails the washing of the carpets and the other must-wash items and furniture. The other preparation is growing "Sabzeh" (wheat, lentil, or barley seeds) in some pot, which is done about 2 or 3 weeks before Nowruz but today many people simply buy them. One other preparation to welcome Nowruz is "Nowruzian shopping", called "Kharid-e Nowruzi". It includes purchasing new clothes, sweets and dry nuts, flower (in particular hyacinths and tulips) and the articles of "Haft Sin ".
Number 'seven' has got a holy position in the Persian Culture. We are told of seven levels of earth and heavens, as mentioned by the holy Qur'an, and in Persian mythology, seven constellations which controlled the fate of the mortals and even seven days in a week. Seven-S spread, in Persian called "Sofreye Haft Sin", is the inextricable component of all homes on Nowruz. Sofreh means spread or tablecloth and Haft Sin, means seven Ss. Zoroastrians of Iran used to decorate their Haft Sin in seven big trays each bearing seven kinds of foods. The role of Haft Sin is very comparable to that of the Christmas tree in the Christian countries. Each item has its own symbolism, which stems from the advent of the custom.
Aside from the holy Qur'an which is the most precious item on the Haft Sin Sofreh, "Sabzeh" (the green sprouts of wheat, barley or lentil) is an important decorator of Haft Sin which symbolizes rebirth of nature and prosperity on earth, and usually is beatified with a strip of red ribbon, while an orange may be placed atop. A glittering red or yellow "Seeb"(apple) is the second and stands for beauty and good health. "Samanu", kind of a sweet pudding or custard, is the next article symbolizing affluence. The following item stands for love and is called "Senjed", fruit of the oleaster or lotus tree. The forth one is "Seer" (garlic) and is the representative of medicine on the spread. Then there exists sumac berries, "Somaq", which epitomizes the color of the sunrise. And as the last article "Serkeh"(vinegar) epitomizes patience and age.
The table is beautifully laid and symbolizes the Message and the Messenger, light, reflection, warmth, life, love, joy, production, prosperity, and nature. It is, in fact, a very elaborate thanksgiving table for all the good and beautiful things bestowed by God.
Different families or ethnicities may substitute some of the mentioned seven items with something else but those mostly accepted pieces were as enumerated. There also some articles whose initial is not "S", but count with the items of "Sofreye Haft-Sin" like the holy Qur'an, an upright mirror, burning candles, colored eggs (similar to the Easter eggs), a bowl of water with an orange floating in, a bowl of water with a gold fish within, Iranian sweetmeats, confectioneries, different fruits, traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, "aajeel" (dried nuts, berries and raisins) which is another important component of the whole Nowruz festival.
Nowruz and Special Foods
In Iran, Nowruz has its own particular dishes. "Sabzi-Polo Mahi", rice with green herbs and fish, is served on the night just preceding Nowruz, or on the same Nowruz day. On the next day "Reshte Polo", rice cooked with noodles is prepared. "Koku Sabzi" is served for the dinner and is made out of herbs and vegetable soufflé. On the last "Shab-e-Jom'e" -the eve of Friday- prior to Nowruz, "Polo"(rice) and "chicken" are served for supper.
Nowruz and Customary Rituals
Nowruz begins with "Saal-Tahvil", and a prayer which can be translated as year delivery. It is the very first instant in the New Year; the exact moment of the spring equinox. Everybody in the family, dressed up in his or her new clothes, gathers around the Haft Sin spread looking forward to "Saal-Tahvil". As the countdown ushers in the New Year, the members of the family start praying, rejoicing, cheer up, hug and kiss each other, and exchange Nowruz greetings, "Eid-e Shoma mobarak!" or "Sal-e No Mobarak" (Happy New Year). Now everyone, especially the children and the youth, moves on to make the rounds of the elders of the family first, then the rest of their family and finally their friends and the neighborhood. Adults, too, have a set schedule of visits and receiving visitors.
This custom, that first the young call on the elder demonstrates the respect that Iranians pay to the aged people. Visits are short, so that a typical visit takes about 30 minutes. "Eidi", new-year gift, is another characteristic feature of Nowruz. Within the family, it is the duty of the head of the household to grant the Eidi to the members of the family, the same can be true of the visitors as well. Of course, in the case of visitors only those who are considered younger, or lower in rank, would receive "Eidi". It is to be mentioned that the young visitors do not bring any gifs with them, and may only receive a gift. The rounds of visitations might last as long as twelve days, up to the day of "Sizdah-Be-dar".
Among all Persian ancient ceremonies, Nowruz with its different aspects in every region of the country has got no more real, fresher and deeper peer. Nowruz repeats and renews everything, generates and revives the nature and influences Iranian creative soul, emotion and thought.
Meanwhile, although the Iranians, who were converted to Islam, observed and are observing the Muslim lunar calendar for religious purposes, the Iranian calendar was soon restored within a century for administrative and economic reasons and that it continues to be their daily time reckoning.
History of Nowruz
Tradition takes Nowruz as far back as 15,000 years and that goes beyond the last ice age. King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. Seasons played a vital part then. Everything depended on the four seasons. After a severe winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion with Mother Nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young. It was the dawn of abundance. Jamshid symbolizes the person/people who introduced Nowruz celebrations.
In 487 BCE, Darius the Great of the Achaemenian dynasty (700 to 330 BCE) celebrated the Nowruz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran. A recent research shows that it was a very special occasion. On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 06-30 a.m., an event that repeats itself once every 1400-1 years. It also happened to coincide with the Babylonian and Jewish new years. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient peoples. On Nowruz, The Persepolis was the place where the Achaemenian king used to receive his peoples from all over the vast empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict the scenes of the celebrations.
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"...l hope people everywhere will join in observing this Day (Nowruz). At a time of crisis, upheaval and change, including in the very regions where the holiday is rooted, let the spirit of Nowruz prevail."