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Cristina Pippa
All the World: Persian New Year
2 Comments | posted March 22nd, 2007 at 07:20 pm by Cristina Pippa

All the World is a weekly column on the drama of life appearing Thursdays.

“Happy Vernal Equinox!”

“I was just thinking– Wait, what?”

“Vernal Equinox. First day of spring? Makes me giddy.”

“You just want an excuse to get naked.”

“I was going to say, we’re having a party tonight.”

That was a conversation at my gym. And it’s true. The sun has crossed the celestial equator. It only happens twice a year and it does something to us, doesn’t it? Perhaps we’ve gotten a little frisky or started shoving sweaters to the back of our closets. Some of us can’t help staying up later, even though we’ve set our clocks forward. And even if we don’t exactly identify with the Onion’s article about the “Area Pagan Dreading Big Family Vernal Equinox Celebration,” this is a significant time of the year around the world.

In Iran, the new year begins with the first day of spring.

The night before the last “unlucky” Wednesday of the Persian year, Iranians celebrate an ancient festival of fire. Bon-fires are lit on the streets and in backyards, and people JUMP OVER them! Symbolically, jumpers are to take up the warmth and life of the fire as they make their way over it, leaving their problems behind. I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot more exciting than looking for purple, hard-boiled eggs under my grandparents’ overgrown boxwood.

The Persian holiday called Nowruz (English spelling varies) means “new day.” Persian New Year traditions find roots in Zorastrianism, which dates back to 1700 BC, although feasts, festivals, and rituals for the Persian New Year are said to have been practiced as many as 15,000 years ago. And the tradition continues.

My Persian friend, Alaleh, has always said that it’s her favorite time of the year. “It is all very happy and positive, and as there is no religious connection with Nowruz, it is completely inclusive. During the Persian New Year, I always feel like I am really starting a new cycle in my life, that I am getting another chance for another great year.”

Gifts are exchanged, new clothes are worn, and most importantly, families and friends celebrate by visiting each other. They gather around a beautiful table set with objects imbued with symbolic value. In Alaleh’s house, the haft sin table is covered with garlic (seer), apples (seeb), sumac (somagh), vinegar (serkeh), hyacinth plant (sonbol), gold coins (sekeh), a fruit called senjed, a pudding made with sprouted wheat called Samanu, and wheat grass (sabzeh). Also, there is typically a mirror, a clock, candles, water, an orange in a bowl of water, flowers, decorated eggs, a goldfish, and sweets.

The sprouted wheat symbolizes rebirth, and the bowl of water with a goldfish represents life within life. Thirteen days after Nowruz, everyone leaves their home for a picnic on seezda bedar. They bring the wheat grass (sabzeh), which by this point has turned yellow and dried, and is seen as having soaked up the negative energy in their houses. Everyone floats their wheat grass in a stream, in essence discarding the negativity in their home.

For those of us who celebrated our new year with a few bottles of champagne (symbolizing, I don’t know, cheer?) a couple of months ago, we can still find good reason to let go of any negative experiences in our last year and gather with the people we love. At this time, sunlight is divided nearly equally over both hemispheres. A new, sunnier season is upon us– that’s enough for me.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007 at 7:20 pm and is filed under In The News, Science & Technology, Religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 2 responses

  1. What a beautiful ritual! I especially love the picnic part. It sounds similar to the less-ritualized Western idea of “Spring Cleaning.” (which I’ve just done a bit of myself.) Especially in New York, where our living spaces are so damn small and packed, it seems wise to clear out negative energy on a regular basis.

    Thanks for the description of this great holiday!

    March 23rd, 2007 | 10:09 am
  2. Hallelujah! How beautiful!

    March 23rd, 2007 | 12:56 pm

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