The Persian Festival of New Year - A Time of Peace, Joy & HarmonyOne of the most worlds most ancient and important festivals is the Persian celebration of Norouz,which literally means the New Day and is celebrated on the vernal equinox. Norouz heralds thearrival of new life on earth and the season of spring and can be traced back to the Sumerian period inPersian history, some 3,000 years before Christ. In Lunar calendar terms, the celebration takes placeon or around March 21st and lasts for the next 21 days, although these days most Persians celebrate fora 13 day period.The ‘Celestial Mechanics’ of the Solar CalendarFor the ancient followers of the solar calendar, the Spring equinox was thought to be the mostappropriate time in Nature to start a New Year, with the arrival of new growth and new life. Someeven date the festival of Norouz back to the time when Shah Jamshid, a mythological figure in GreaterIranian culture and tradition, celebrated the first spring, after the last ice age. Some of this arcaneknowledge has been lost to us, but the ancient culture and rituals go forward.The festival of light and creation became a key cornerstone of the ancient Zarathustrian Solar calendarand belief system. Today, fire rituals and jumping over bonfires remain traditions in Persia on the lastWednesday of the old year to purge the spirit of negative energies.The new day is the precursor of the new year and new aspirations for the future. Persians to this dayoften use both terms Norouz (New Day) & Sal-e-No (NewYear). The ‘new day’ perfectlysynchronizes us with the positions of the Earth, Sun & Moon.In the past, the astronomical ‘new day’ element of the ceremony was celebrated by the ancients onlyonce every few years to adjust for natural variances in our position to the sun, based on theirunderstanding that the time taken by the earth to revolve around the sun involved a fraction whencalculated in terms of the earths rotation round its axis. In the Lunar calendar the equivalent is the‘leap year’.One of the earliest historical accounts we have proves that the ‘Norouz’ of 487 BC was celebrated at‘Takth-e Jamshid’ or Persepolis (The City of Persians). Persepolis was actually built as the springresidence of the Persian Kings and was the place chosen on Earth where the sunrise would coincideperfectly with the equinox and set the calendar to zero. So, as the first shaft of light from the risingsun cast its light on a square stone plinth set in the central hall of the palace the exact time of Norouzwas marked.Across Persia, the New Year is still ushered in, each year at slightly different hours of the day,coinciding exactly with the equinox and ones position of longitude. Just like the ancients, thiseffectively brings time differences back to a zero-setting, without the requirement for chronographsand modern day atomic clocks. Indeed, the Persian civilization’s remarkable early knowledge ofastrophysics paved the way for many of the rapid advances in science and technology from which wecontinue to benefit today.
‘Norouz’ – The Spiritual SignificanceThe spiritual significance of the festival draws upon some of the most ancient religious thought in theIndo-Persian tradition, particularly as expressed by the enigmatic and shamanistic figure we know of asZoroaster, often described in equal parts as a ‘Prophet and a Magician’. Zoroaster stressed theimportance of ‘Good Thoughts’, ‘Good Words’ and ‘Good Actions’ in the path to enlightenment, sothat we might synchronize ourselves with the divine threshold and Nature.Zarathustrianism (or Mazdaism) is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of ProphetZoroaster (also known as Zarathustra, in Avestan) and was formerly among the worlds largestreligions, before the advent of Islam some 1400 years ago. It was probably founded some time beforethe 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.Zoroaster had a revelation was that there was only one ultimate God, who was omniscient but notomnipotent, thus this all-seeing God required the help of humankind to bring about an ultimatevictory over the forces of negativity and darkness.Zoroaster saw the world as one locked in a cosmic battle between ‘Good and Evil’, between the ‘Lordof Light and Wisdom’ –Ahura Mazda, and his counterpart, a being of negative energy named -AngraMainyu – the ‘Hostile Spirit’. We see the religious concepts of Hell, Heaven, Resurrection and evenperhaps the ‘Yin & Yang’ energies reflected in these early teachings, as well as the etymology of theEnglish word for ‘Anger’ in Mazda’s evil counterpart ‘Angra’.In the eyes of The Zarathustrians everything that produced Life, protected and enriched it wasregarded as good. This included all the forces of nature beneficial to humans such as the earth, water,sky, animals and plants as well as positive spiritual and moral values such as justice, honesty, peace,health, beauty, joy and happiness. Conversely, all that threatened Life and created disorder belonged tothe hostile spirits. Zarathustrian thought has had a radical impact over hundreds of years in the MiddleEast and has informed many important religions and religious precepts.When the Zarathustrians eventually lost their kingdom, they quickly fell under the influence of thehitherto alien but pervasive Semitic Lunar calendar and a different way of life. Persian folklorictraditions, however, have kept these early traditions and beliefs alive, and this is perhaps no moreapparent than when we come to look at the traditional Persian New Year table arrangement, or the‘Haft Sin’, an elaborate arrangement of seven ( = ‘sin’ in Farsi) key symbolic or ‘talismanic items’, eachwith a deep significance.The Traditional ‘Haft Sin’ TableUp until the 1940s, in Yazd and Kerman, where many Zarathustrians were last concentrated in Iran,they laid out seven trays (Seene) on a green table cloth or ‘Sofre’, in which they put many and variousitems that were available to the family as a sign of thanksgiving for past and future abundance. Todaymost Persians take seven items that start with the letter Sheen (Sh) or Seen (Se) and make of them acareful arrangement. Muslims use items starting with Seen because they believe wine (Sharab) does nothave a rightful place on the sacred table and we must remember that the ‘meaning’ of these items isthe result of complex and interwoven religious, cultural and folkloric traditions and the matter of whatis placed on the table can reflect the taste of the host.
The Signifcance of ‘Seven’In the bas reliefs at Persepolis we see seven people from seven countries carrying Norouz gifts,highlighting the importance of ‘seven’, a magical and significant number for the Zarathrustrians. Therewere held to be seven elements of life, namely, fire, earth, water, air, plants, animals and humans. Thetraditional table setting of ‘Jamshid Navroz’ includes seven specific items beginning with the letter ‘S’,known as Haft Sin, that signify life, health, wealth, abundance, love, patience and purity.These items are also having astrological bearings to the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter andSaturn, and Sun and Moon.A third important spiritual significance of ‘seven’ is its embodiment of the ‘Seven Eternal Laws’ ofZarathustra’s teachings:The Seven Eternal Laws of the Zarathustrians 1. VOHU MANA -Good Mind or Thoughts -Using ones mind in a Good way to achieve its maximum potential. 2. ASHA VAHISTA -The Ultimate Truth -or Good Words. A Good use of the mind results in the understanding of basic Natural laws bringing forth good knowledge, good discoveries, and good inventions. 3. KHASH ATRA VAIRYA -Good Guidance - or Actions - what we do with these positive thoughts and actions? We have to use them to build a better life for ourselves, by making Good Rules and Good Laws. That would also lead to Good Products and Good Services and the productive co-operation between people. 4. SPENTA ARMAITI -Lawful Desire- The result is then Righteousness in the Person, the Family, the Community & finally in each the Nation-state. Therefore the world becomes a Paradise without War, where people live in harmony with each other and with Nature. Without war, pollution, sickness, lies, thefts, greed and fear, society is finally rid of the ‘un- lawful elements of Desire’. 5. HAURVATATA -Perfection- a Righteous Society in turn allows its people the opportunity to fully develop the potential locked within their Mind, Body & Spirit. The result is a productive ‘correctness’ in behavior across the population in whatever field people might choose to strive, from politics and music, to athletics and medicine. 6. AMERETAT -Immortality- Perfection in turn creates a mental stage in human life where one is Free from the Fear of Death, free from the fear of the unknown. One is elevated from the material world to a timeless, space-less state of mind where death has no meaning. 7. MAZDA AHURA - the Ultimate Creator or Lord of Light & Wisdom Once Perfection is attained and the sense of Fear departed, this is the final and seventh stage. We become synchronized, like the calendar, with the dynamic creative life-force of the cosmos, through Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Actions.
The Order of Norouz Festival CeremoniesA stroke of the clock, or for some, the turn of an egg on the table, will indicate the time of theequinox and a happy celebration lasting the next 21 days. A fire, or a lamp, or a candle is lit -sometimes as many candles as there are children in the household- and prayers are said. Familymembers sitting around the Norouz table will greet each other by sprinkling rose water and showingeach other a mirror, often with greeting: May you be as fragrant as the rose and as bright as themirror.Elders give members of their family their blessings and gifts and there are hugs and kisses. Like theScottish New Year, there are many reciprocal greetings and meetings with other friends and relativesas the festival continues. A visit is paid to the temple where prayers are offered and children are givengifts. Zarathustrians believed both in the full enjoyment of life and making the best of life in times ofdifficulty. Today Persians take full advantage of this festival to visit friends and family, holding parties,having fun and re-affirming relationships.Persian New Year Traditions of Past & PresentSassanid period celebrations would start five days prior to the New Year during which time theybelieved guardian angels would come down to earth to visit their human counter-parts. Spring-cleaning was carried on every part of the house to welcome them along with feasts and celebrations.There was also the belief that the souls of the departed family members would visit the homes of theirloved ones on Norouz Eve.In the ‘Suri Festival’ New Years Eve (or the last Tuesday of the old year) bonfires would be set onrooftops at night to draw the attention of guardian angels and some would dance through flames tocleanse themselves of negative energies, illnesses and misfortunes.Today in Iran, bonfires are still made and people will jump over the fire on the last Tuesday of theyear. Children might also run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons and knockingon doors to ask for treats.The Figure of the ‘Black Man’ dressed in redThe traditional herald of the Norouz season is a man called Hājī Firuz (or Khwāja Piruz). Hesymbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of eachyear and reborn at the beginning of the New Year.His face is painted black (black is an ancient Persian symbol of good luck) and he wears a redcostume. The ‘Haji Firuz’ figure sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpetsspreading good cheer and announces the coming of the New Year.This folkloric figure of a man with a ‘blackened’ face also marks the fact that many Persian goods weremarketed through the port of Zanzibar, giving the figure ‘lucky’ connotations of successful tradingand prosperity.
Some More Traditions of NorouzThe ancient Zarathustrians held that the sixth day of Norouz was the most important of all, being thebirthday of Zoroaster himself. Zarathustrians today still celebrate this day, but it has lost itssignificance for many modern Iranians.The first few days are traditionally spent visiting older members of the family, other relatives andfriends. A typical visit might ideally be half an hour, but with the likelihood of bumping into othervisiting relatives and friends visiting at the same time! Courtesy dictates that visitors should bring asufficient supply of pastries, fresh or dried fruits and special nuts. Often these will be served withPersian tea or sherbet as conversations begin and gifts are exchanged.Some believe if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Norouz, thenthe New Year will indeed be a good one. Conversely, if there are fights and disagreements, the yearmight be a bad one. Men may or may not choose to shave their faces until the night of the ‘New Day’as a sign of removal of old habits and tendencies.On the last and 13th day of ‘Sizdah Bedar’ many Persians leave their homes to go to the parks or ruralareas to spend a day in nature to celebrate the passing of the bad luck of the thirteenth day, oftenenjoying music and dancing at family picnics.This day of the celebration might stems from the ancient Persian belief that the twelve constellationscontrolled the months of the year, and each Zodiac sign ruled the earth for a thousand years at the endof which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Hence Norouz lasts twelve days and the thirteenth daysymbolizes the time of chaos, families to put order aside and purge the bad luck associated with thenumber thirteen by going outdoors to hold parties and picnics in the open air. At the end of this day,the sabzeh grown for the Haft Seen (which has symbolically collected all sickness and bad luck) isthrown into running water to exorcise the demons (divs) from the household. It is also customary foryoung single women to tie the leaves of the sabzeh before discarding it, so expressing a wish to bemarried before the next years Sizdah Bedar. Another tradition associated with this day is Dorugh-eSizdah, literally meaning ‘the lie of the thirteenth’, which is the process of lying to someone andmaking them believe it, similar to the European tradition of April Fools Day.Traditional Elements of the ‘Haft Sin’ table ‘Sabza’ - wheat, barley or lentils sprouts grown to the height of a few inches inside a thin piece of white cloth often wrapped around a clay jug or grown on a shallow earthenware plate and symbolizing re-birth and times of plenty. ‘Sepand’ - seeds of wild rue sometimes placed in a small incense burner and burned just after the turn of the year ‘Sib’- apples symbolizing the Earth, health, beauty, life and wisdom. ‘Sekka’ - a few newly minted coins, symbolizing hopes for prosperity and wealth.
‘Sir’ - garlic cloves, sometimes with the roots dyed red, blue and green to resemble colored tassels. Esteemed by Iranians as a medicine and a means of warding off the evil eye and demonic power. Their months of θâigarči- means literally the Month of garlic Ancient Iranians would grow seven different herbs for the New Year and garlic would probably have been one of those. ‘Serka’ Wine (festival & enjoyment) or vinegar ‘serkeh’ (representing age, wisdom and patience). ‘Samanu’ -regarded as holy dish and symbolizing affluence. Samanu is essential for the sofre and considered so powerful an aphrodisiac that some call it "the strength of the patriarch". It also has folkloric associations with the planet Venus and Love. Wheat is first soaked in water (preferably rain water collected for the purpose) for three days and then spread on a large metal tray and covered with a white cloth. When the wheat sprouts it is minced on a stone slab or wooden board and then ground in a mortar and the sap mixed with hot water, oil, and flour, and the whole cooked very slowly overnight traditionally by the women of the house. Unshelled almonds and walnuts are also added, resulting in a thick, sweet paste, reddish in color, a portion of which is reserved for the Norouz table and the rest distributed among neighbors, who return the container together with one or more colored eggs or a green leaf.A holy book, sacred or poetic text, such as The Avesta, Koran, Bible, Torah or Kitáb-i-Aqdas and/ora poetry book, usually either the Shahnama or the Divan of Hafiz.Lit candles laid on the table are a symbol of hope and enlightenment and happiness as well as of thepurging bad spirits and the holy fire.Mirrors are a symbol of the Sky, Cleanliness and of self-contemplation. The purity of the mirror glassmetaphorically allows us to view ourselves from the point of view of the divine threshold.Zoroastrians today place the lit candle in front of the mirror or a glass of rose water in celebration ofthe element and for its magical cleansing powers and signifying a pure ideal relationship of Self toGod.Hand-painted eggs represent creation and fertility and their preparation on the eve of the Norouzreflects an old belief that the souls of the departed come down and partake of the table, connecting itwith the All Souls Festival. These eggs (tokhm) often symbolize the number of children in a home, i.e.the ‘mortal seed In the town of Khor, eggs are placed under the bench prepared for the bride with thehope that she may bear children.Fish and water are ever present. Often goldfish are presented in a jar, symbolizing ‘life within life’and that the sign of Pisces (and of human frailty) which the sun is leaving has become the more‘productive’ sign of Aries. The fish also relates to the ’Kara Mâhi’ of Zarathustrian myth, whichswims in the Vourukaša sea and wards off harmful creatures.Water – perhaps the most humble, powerful and holy of elements, might be collected the day beforefor luck and a green leaf of pomegranate, sour orange, or box-tree (šemšâd) added.
Some other Traditional Accompaniments the ‘Haft Sin’ table The center of the haft seen table is normally occupied by a vase of flowers, customarily hyacinth(sonbol) and branches of musk-willow (bid-e mešk).Vessels containing milk, rose water (golâb), honey, sugar, and (one, three, five or seven) coloredeggs might also take their place around the vase.A platter containing fruit, traditionally apples, oranges, pomegranates and quinces.Some sort of bread, often sweetened, such as the Shirazi tali-ye širin made of fine wheat flour,sugar, honey and rose waterMâst (yogurt) and fresh cheese, various sweets, and âjil, a mixture of dried roasted seeds of chick-peas, melons, wheat (gandom berešta), rice (berenjak) and nuts, all mixed with raisins.A platter of traditional Iranian pastries like baghlava, toot and naan-nokhodchi‘Senjid’ - the dried fruit of the lotus or oleaster tree stands for love‘Somagh’ - sumac berries signify the color of the sunrise and the victory of good over evilSome Traditional New Year Main CoursesSabzi Polo Mahi -The New Years Day traditional meal which is rice with green herbs served with fish.The traditional seasonings for Sabzi Polo are parsley, coriander, chives, dill and fenugreek.Reshteh Polo -Rice cooked with noodles which is said to symbolically help one succeed in life.Dolme Barg -A traditional dish of Azeri people, cooked just before the new year. It includes somevegetables, meat and rice which have been cooked and embedded in vine leaves and cooked again. Itis considered useful in reaching to wishes.Kookoo sabzi - Herb and vegetable souffle, traditionally served for dinner at New Year. A light andfluffy omelette-style dish made from parsley, dill, coriander, spinach, spring onion ends, and chives,mixed with eggs and walnut.Norouz Greetings from all of us at The Persian Rug Village!Why this festival has survived? Whether we believe in a Creator or not, the gift of life and wisdom arewhat that makes us conscious humans and directs our history. As we approach what many believe is akey time in our epoch, creating a balance with Nature and maintaining order within our Spirit is just asrelevant as it was 3,000 years ago. This is perhaps the lesson we can learn from such a wonderful andancient tradition.
So Happy New Year from all of us, we hope you enjoy our festival celebrations and will join us inthe promotion these positive energies of joy and happiness and peace, in short - the celebration ofLife.