Today is Nowruz (Persian: نوروز literally “new day”), the Iranian New Year also known as the Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. It is celebrated on the equinox in March which can fall anywhere from the 19th to the 21st. This year (2019) it is celebrated today in Iran. Despite its Persian and Zoroastrian origins, Nowruz has been celebrated by diverse communities. It has been celebrated for well over 2,000 years (possibly longer) in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Bahais, and some Muslim communities.
In the 11th century CE the Iranian calendar was reformed in order to fix the beginning of the calendar year, i.e. Nowruz, at the equinox. Accordingly, the definition of Nowruz given by the Iranian scientist Tusi (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/tusi/ ) was the following: “the first day of the official New Year [Nowruz] was always the day on which the sun entered Aries before noon.” Nowruz is the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar.
The word Nowruz is a combination of Persian words now, (English: new) and ruz (English: day). A variety of spelling variations for the word nowruz exist in English-language usage, including novruz, nowruz, nauruz and newroz.
Charshanbe Suri (Persian: چارشنبه سوری, translit. Čāršanbe Suri; Kurdish: Çarşema Sor; Azerbaijani: Çərşənbə Bayramı) is a prelude to the New Year. In Iran, it is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz. It is usually celebrated in the evening by performing rituals such as jumping over bonfires and lighting off firecrackers and fireworks.In Azerbaijan, where the preparation for Novruz usually begins a month earlier, the festival is held every Tuesday during four weeks before the holiday of Novruz. Each Tuesday, people celebrate the day of one of the four elements – water, fire, earth and wind. On the holiday eve, the graves of relatives are visited and tended.
Iranians sing the poetic line “my yellow is yours, your red is mine” (Persian: سرخی تو از من، زردی من از تو, translit. zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man) to the fire during the festival, asking the fire to take away ill-health and problems and replace them with warmth, health, and energy. Trail mix and berries are also served during the celebration.
Spoon banging (قاشق زنی) is a tradition observed on the eve of Charshanbe Suri, similar to the Halloween custom of trick-or-treating. In Iran people wear disguises and go door-to-door banging spoons against plates or bowls and receive packaged snacks. In Azerbaijan, children slip around to their neighbors’ homes and apartments on the last Tuesday prior to Novruz, knock at the doors, and leave their caps or little basket on the thresholds, hiding nearby to wait for candies, pastries and nuts.
The ritual of jumping over fire has continued in Armenia in the feast of Trndez, which is a feast of purification in the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, celebrated forty days after Jesus’s birth.
In Iran, the Nowruz holidays last thirteen days. On the thirteenth day of the New Year, Iranians leave their houses to enjoy nature and picnic outdoors, as part of the Sizdebedar ceremony. The greenery grown for the Haft-sin setting is thrown away, particularly into a running water. It is also customary for young single people, especially young girls, to tie the leaves of the greenery before discarding it, expressing a wish to find a partner. Another custom associated with Sizdah bedar is the playing of jokes and pranks, similar to April Fools’ Day
There exist various foundation legends for Nowruz in Iranian texts. The Shahnameh credits the foundation of Nowruz to the fabled Iranian king Jamshid, who saved humanity from a winter destined to kill every living creature. To defeat the killer winter, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat, shining like the Sun. The world’s creatures gathered and scattered jewels around him and proclaimed that this was the New Day (Now Ruz). This was the first day of Farvardin.
Although it is not clear whether Proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that Iranians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, respectively related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year. Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet suggest: “It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Iranians to develop their own spring festival into an established New Year feast, with the name Navasarda “New Year” (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).” Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, “it is probable that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.” That is, the Persian empire replaced the Babylonian empire, and, in the process, assimilated some of its customs.
Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism. In Mithraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the Sun’s light. The Iranian festivals such as Mehrgan (autumnal equinox), Tirgan, and the eve of Chelle ye Zemestan (winter solstice) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce, “It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself”; although there is no clear date of origin. Between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan) was celebrated. This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.
The 10th-century scholar al-Biruni (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/al-biruni/ ), in his work Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim, provides a description of the calendars of various nations. Besides the Iranian calendar, various festivals of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Sabians, and other nations are mentioned in the book. In the section on the Iranian calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tirgan, Mehrgan, the six Gahambars, Farvardigan, Bahmanja, Esfand Armaz and several other festivals. According to him, “It is the belief of the Iranians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion.” The Persian historian Gardizi, in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār, under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals, mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehrgan.
All agricultural communities worldwide have celebrations of the new year, with many common features – especially renewal, but quite often homage to ancestors, penance for past misdeeds, and hope for a bright future. I am not deeply enough immersed in ancient Persian scholarship to say much about the history of the celebration of Nowruz except that it is very old, and is attested through the centuries. We know, however, that both its dating and its form have changed substantially over the years.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Caucasian and Central Asian countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday. Nowruz was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. To commemorate the UN recognition, Iran unveiled a commemorative postage stamp during the first International Nowruz Celebrations in Tehran on Saturday, 27th March 2010.
House cleaning, or shaking the house (Persian: خانه تکانی, translit. xāne tekāni) is commonly done before the arrival of Nowruz. People start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning of their homes and by buying new clothes to wear for the New Year, as well the purchase of flowers. The hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous.
Parsis adorn their houses with different auspicious symbols; namely, stars, butterflies, birds and fish; and on the day of Navroz, they dress in their new and best clothes and put on gold and silver kushtis and caps. They decorate the doors and windows with garlands of roses and jasmine, and use colored powders for creating patterns known as rangoli on their steps and thresholds. Fish and floral motifs are a favorite among rangolis and considered highly auspicious.
During the Nowruz holidays, people are expected to make short visits to the homes of family, friends and neighbors. Typically, the young people will visit their elders first, and the elders return their visit later. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Many Iranians throw large Nowruz parties as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.
Typically, before the arrival of Nowruz, family members gather around the Haft-sin table and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. Traditionally, the Haft-sin (Persian: هفتسین, seven foods beginning with the letter sin (س)) are:
Sabze (Persian: سبزه) – wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.
Samanu (Persian: سمنو) – sweet pudding made from wheat germ
Persian olive (Persian: سنجد, translit. senjed)
Vinegar (Persian: سرکه, translit. serke)
Apple (Persian: سیب, translit. sib)
Garlic (Persian: سیر, translit. sir)
Sumac (Persian: سماق, translit. somāq)
These items are also known to have astrological correlations to planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun, and Moon. The Haft-sin table may also include a mirror, candles, painted eggs, a bowl of water, goldfish, coins, hyacinth, and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Qur’an, Bible, Avesta, the Šāhnāme of Ferdowsi, or the divān of Hafez may also be included. Haft-sin’s origins are not clear. The practice is believed to have been popularized over the past 100 years.
Of the seven items, samanu is the most commonly prepared for festive eating. Here’s your video: