Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy (Persian) New Year!

Tonight (or tomorrow morning depending on where you are in the world) is Nowruz, the Persian/Iranian New Year. This holiday is celebrated all over the world, in particular in the majority Persian speaking countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, but also in many other places in the region and in the diaspora.

Nowruz is derived from the Persian 'Now' meaning new and 'Ruz' meaning day. The holiday pre-dates Islam and is connected to ancient Zoroastrian spring festivals. When the Islamic Republic came to power they attempted to eliminate the holiday, but the Iranian public would not have it and so the celebration continues to this day.

There are a few traditional Nowruz events.

On the Tuesday evening before Nowruz (which is always on the Spring Equinox) there is a fire-jumping ceremony called Chaharshanbe Suri (Wednesday Feast). NOTE: Despite the obvious 'Wednesday' in the title, this is celebrated on the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning preceding Nowruz. The importance of fire is a remnant from Zoroastrian times and is ritually symbolic of rebirth and renewal.

For Nowruz there is a tradition of a "Haft Sin" table. 'Haft' in Persian means 'seven' and 'Sin' is a letter in the Persian alphabet. On the Haft Sin table, 7 objects which begin with the letter 'Sin' are placed. I have heard rumors that before Islam came to Iran they used to have 'Haft Shin' tables (shin is another Persian letter which is close to sin), but this was changed to 'Sin' because one of the objects on the 'Haft Shin' table was 'Sharab' (wine), something not allowed in Islam. Others insist that the original version was "Haft Chin", although I am not certain that the people who say this have any expertise in pre-modern Near Eastern linguistics.

The last event for the New Year celebration is 'Sizdah bedar'. On the 13th day of the first month of the Persian New Year ('Sizdah' means 13), families go outdoors to picnic and be in nature.

For more information see these links on:

This is the best and most complete page on Nowruz and the associated events that I have seen: http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/Nowruz/NowRuz.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haft_sin_table (I don't trust this article so much)

Chaharshanbe Suri:

Sizdah Bedar:


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