Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nowruz, the Persian New Year

Every culture and religion has deemed spring a special time. For Christians, Easter is celebrated. For Jews, Passover. But for the Persian culture, it means something different. It is the new year, called Nowruz (literally translated as The New Day) and it’s marked with many traditions that are celebrated by Iranians and the ethnic cultures that were once under Persian influence.

Who was once under Persian influence, you ask? Try The Persian Empire, for adults, or Ancient Persia, for kids, to learn more about Persian history. For the true enthusiast, there's Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, a well regarded English translation of the Persian creation story. For a glimpse of private and public life modern Iran, try Persian Mirrors.

Originally begun under the Zoroastrianism, Nowruz has developed into a secular observance and become a time for family and friends to gather together and celebrate, no matter where or what country they now live in.
Fire jumping

Nowruz may have been the origin of spring cleaning, as houses are stripped clean for the event before the New Year celebration. Several days before the New Year, Chahārshanbe Suri is celebrated when everyone goes outside and lights bonfires because it is good luck to jump over the fire.  It is a triumph of light over darkness, spring over winter, which is also a Zoroastrian tradition. To see this celebration in action, check out film Fireworks Wednesday. It's set in Tehran as the city is preparing for Chahārshanbe Suri. For more movie magic, see MCPL's large selection of Iranian films.

The main event, however, is the Haft Sin.  Literally it means 7 items placed on a table that begin with the letter “S” in Farsi. Yes there are more than 7 items listed here, but the more the better!
Traditional Persian New Year table items
Nowruz Table Setting

Seeb-apple (the earth)
Sabzeh-wheat (growth)
Samanu-a sweet pudding (wealth)
Senjed-a dried fruit (love)
Seer-garlic (health)
Somaq-dried berries (sunrise)
Serkeh-vinegar (age)
Sonbol-hyacinth (growth and what a wonderful aroma!)
Sekkeh-coins (wealth)

Friends and family drop over to view the Haft Sin and enjoy the special foods. And what Persian celebration would be complete without delicious, special foods? It is deemed good luck to eat sabzi
Sabzi Polo Mahi
polo mahi. This is a fish and rice dish cooked with green herbs symbolizing the growth associated with spring. And for dessert, baklava and samanu.  On the thirteenth day (the unlucky day) after Nowruz, everyone goes outside for picnics and the custom is to bring your sabzeh (the wheat you've grown) with you and throw it into a running stream to get rid of your bad luck. You can try creating a dish of your own with Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year.

Want to learn more about the Farsi? We have a variety of language learning material for Farsi. In addition, our Gaithersburg and Marilyn Praisner branches have book collections written in Farsi. Try One Thousand & One Persian-English Proverbs: Learning Language and Culture through Commonly Used Sayings for a glimpse into both the Farsi language and Persian culture.

When you meet Iranians in the next few days, you may wish them a Happy New Year or in Farsi “Aideh Shomah Mobarak” or literally Happy Party to You! May spring be a happy and prosperous time for all of us!

Lisa N

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