Date: Saturday March 21, 2015. The Persian New Year goes by the name of Nowruz. The word has been derived from two words –‘now’ which denotes ‘new’, and ‘ruz” which denotes day.
So simply out, the word Nowruz signifies New Day. Nowruz also celebrates the advent of Spring in the country. Nowruz is the first day of the first month according to the traditional Persian calendar which goes by the name of Farvardin.
Overview: Nowruz is the traditional Persian New Year celebration that is observed in accordance to the Persian calendar. This is a national holiday in Persia. Nowruz in Persia is celebrated for thirteen days. Today Nowruz celebrations have crossed boundaries and have spread to different parts of the globe too.
Nowruz celebrations not only mark the arrival of a brand New Year in Persia but also signify the onset of the Spring season in the country. As such the day is observed coinciding with the day that marks the Northward Equinox astronomically. Because of this Nowruz celebrations generally take place on March 21, plus or minus one day at times, depending on the place where it is being observed.
History: The name Nowruz can be traced back to the ancient times and can be precisely dates to be in the 2nd century AD. Historians have found very early documentations of the event and have also proved that the celebrations of Nowruz existed even during the times of Achaemenid Empire that dates back to approximately 550 to 330 BCE. It is believed that during the ancient times there were many different kingdoms that were under the Persian Empire, and the Kings of such Kingdoms used to bring the Persian Emperor (who was called the Shahanshah) gifts on the day of Nowruz.
Celebrations of Nowruz became further significant since the Persian Emperor Cambyses II got to succeed to the throne of Persia formally only after he has participated in the country’s New Year celebrations. Since 2013, the United Nations General Assembly has stamped Nowruz to be an International Day and has described it as the Spring Festival of Persia that has been around for more than three thousand years. The celebrations of Nowruz and the splendid ways in which the people of Persia reveled in this day also find mention in the writings of Omar Khayyam, who was a renowned Persian Mathematician and Poet. We can find mention of Nowruz in his book named Nowruznama, which means the Book on Nowruz or New Year.
Mythology: The celebrations of Nowruz can be traced back to have originated in ancient Iran where Nowruz finds mention in the texts of Avesta that survive. As per the mythology of Iran, Nowruz is supposed to have been celebrated from the days that saw Jamshid as the ruler of Iran. It was then celebrated after sunset of the sixth day of Gahanbar up till the sunrise of the New Year’s Day. As per the Persian legends, Jamshid is believed to have saved the mankind from a severe winter that was supposed to eradicate all forms of life on Earth. As such Nowruz is the time to celebrate rejuvenation. In fact historians are of the opinion that it is during the rule of Jamshid that the people of Persia were blessed with a more settled kind of life, which gave them the opportunity to participate in celebrations. As per the writings of Abu Rayhan Biruni, the Persian scholar and historian of the 10th century AD, we come to know that the people of Persia believed that it is on the day of Nowruz that the Universe began moving, and as such, it is the day that marks a new beginning.
Customs: Nowruz celebrations include the following traditional customs –
- Spring Cleaning – Nowruz this marks the advent of Spring season in Persia, and Spring means reawakening of Nature. As such, it is a common Persian custom to revamp homes and personal attires. Traditionally this custom goes by the name of Khouneh Tekouni which when literally translated means ‘shaking the house’ or ‘complete cleaning of the home’. It is the time of the year when people elaborately deck up their homes and also buy new artifacts for the household. A mandatory custom during this time is to fill up the home with fresh flowers like hyacinth and tulip. Buying and wearing new clothes and exchanging gifts are also part of the Nowruz celebrations.
- Visiting Family, Neighbors and Friends – Traditional Persian New Year is celebrated for thirteen days. On the first day people begin the celebrations by visiting the elders of the family, followed by visiting the other members of the family, and then the neighbors and friends. The visits are also reciprocated. It is also a custom for the hosts to treat the guests with sweets, and for the guests to take sweetmeats for the hosts.
- Nowruz Parties and Picnic – Traditionally it was the custom for the Persian people to have an outdoor picnic with family members on the thirteenth day of the New Year. This custom is called Sizdah Be-dar. However, in present times, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to visit families and friends individually. To solve this problem, people organize a number of parties and picnics where they can congregate to celebrate Nowruz and also enjoy reconnecting with loved ones.
- Nowruz Resolutions – Persian people believe that how a person spends Nowruz is an indication of how the person would fare in the upcoming New Year. As such, people try to spend the day in a positive manner. On this day people avoid disagreements, disputes or arguments at all costs.
- Bonfire and Singing – Fire is considered very auspicious by the Persian people who believe that Fire has the capacity to drive away fears and boost one’s morale. So on the occasion of Nowruz, many people make bonfires on roads and by-lanes. They jump over the fire singing traditional songs.
- Making, Serving and Gifting Sweetmeats – Persian people believe sweets to be very auspicious and also believe that sharing sweets on the occasion of Nowruz is a symbolic way to hope that the upcoming New Year too would be filled with sweetness. It is a common custom to make a number of sweet items at home. These are used to treat family and friends who come to meet and greet on the occasion of Nowruz. It is also a tradition to keep a bowl of candies or sweets hidden outside the house in a safe place. On the day of Nowruz the first family member who wakes up is supposed to bring it back home. This is the symbolic entrance of sweet moments in the house which people hope the home would be filled with in the upcoming year. Children run around in the neighborhood asking for sweet treats and the clamor they create is supposed to drive away all that is bad or evil.
- Driving Away Bad Luck — As the New Year commences, it is perhaps common in most (if not all) cultures round the world to try and attract more good luck and drive away back luck. Nowruz is no different. There are some rituals that are considered auspicious and effective in driving away bad luck or misfortune. One of them is Kuze Shekastan which involves breaking some earthen jars that are believed to house misfortune. Another interesting ritual is Fal-Gûsh which is trying to interpret one’s future by overhearing scraps of conversations of passersby. Another custom goes by the name of Gereh-gosha’i where a knot is tied in a handkerchief or clothing and the first passerby is requested to open the knot. People believe that this is the way to detangle the tangles of misfortune.
- Haft Sin – This is a traditional table setting. Seven items are placed on a table whose name starts with the letter S or to be more precise the Persian letter Sin are placed. Each item is considered to have symbolic significance.
- Nowruz Feasting – Feasting is an integral part of Nowruz celebrations and many traditional Persian items are served on the occasion of Nowruz including Sabzi Polo Mahi, Kookoo sabzi, Dolme Barg, Reshteh Polo, and Nowruz Koje. Some of the food items are considered to bear symbolic significance.
- Sizdah Bedar – Celebrated on the thirteenth day of the New Year, this observance stemmed from a Persian belief that considers thirteen to be an unlucky number. Passing the thirteenth day as such implies that one has overcome the bad luck. Such conquest is celebrated with music, dancing and by organizing picnics.
Greetings: The Traditional way of greeting on a Persian New Year are –
- Happy New Year — “Nowruz Mobarak”
- Wishing a prosperous New Year — “Nowruz Pirooz”
- Wishing another 100 Happy New Years — “Sad Saal Bin Saal-ha”.
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