March 20, 2016 marked the Nowruz, the Iranian new year. Originally celebrated by Zoroastrians it’s now the most celebrated occasion inside Iran and is also celebrated by Iranians worldwide.
According to Shahnameh, the epic poem by Iranian poet Ferdowsi, the tradition of celebrating Nowruz or nevruz was started by King Jamshid almost 3000 years ago. Now or Nev in Farsi means new and ruz means day.
Days before Nowruz full blown Gul-e-Narga, narcissus start appearing in green grocers’ shops and occasionally in supermarkets. The practice may have changed now but it was mostly the green grocers who sold the flowers when I was living in Shiraz during Shah’s time.
Celebration of Nowruz starts 10-14 days before the actual day. The first thing women do is germinate wheat kernel. Wheat is cultivated in a round flowerpot and watered. Water level and exposure to sunshine is checked on daily basis. After ten days about a foot tall fresh green wheat sprouts adorn the pot.
Whole house is cleaned thoroughly. Carpets are hanged outside in the early morning sun over clothesline. During the day they are beaten with a wooden stick to remove dust and dander that has been collected over the year. The carpets are brought in before the sunset and the process is repeated for several days. The cushion covers are either washed and ironed or new ones are bought. Families in Iran still have traditional seating arrangement whereby the living room is on the floor which usually is covered from wall-to-wall hand woven Persian carpets. Large cushions are placed on the floor and at the back, perpendicular to the floor cushion. They are either made of Iranian carpet or Ghleem.
On chahar-shanbeh-suri, the last Wednesday before Nowruz, children light several small bonfires in streets and jump over the fire singing different songs. They always say something to the affect:
Zardi-e-man o Beh geer or Surkhi-e-tou bedeh.
Take my yellow color and give me your red color for red symbolizes robust health and yellow represents illness.
The night before Nowruz the cushion are covered, table is covered with Iranian tablecloth. Wheat sprout pot is placed in a decorative Iranian pot which resembles delft pottery of Holland.
My landlady always put a mirror in the middle of the table and surrounded the mirror with seven things beginning with Farsi letter Seen, S: Sabzi (sprouted wheat symbolizing renewal or rebirth); Sumac (deep red powder used especially to cook rice with fish – symbolic of sunrise color); Samanu (halwa or sweet made with the germinated wheat); Seer (garlic for its medicinal properties); Sirkeh (vinegar symbolizing patience and wisdom. It’s a staple condiment for Iranians. They even dip cos-lettuce in vinegar before eating.); Sikkeh (coin to bring prosperity); Seeb or Sinjal berries – date-sized round berries that are brown from the outside and white from the inside. Fruit symbolizes beauty and health. Candles also adorned the table.
Around eleven in the morning, after breakfast, my landlady’s family gathered around the table. Her mother, Khanum Buzurg, would light the candles, sprinkle everything, accept the mirror, with rose water put a raw egg in the middle of the mirror. Everyone sat quietly staring at the egg.
Iranian legend has it that the earth is carried over one horn of a bull and at the end of a year the bull gets tired and shifts the earth onto the other horn and the old year is dissolved, giving birth to the new year. When that happens the egg moves slightly. While we all stared at the egg, Khanum Buzurg would tell when the egg moved and without fail it would be around noon.
Sounds of Nowruz Mubarak,Eid-e-toon Mubarak or Tabreek rang in the air. Good wishes like may you see health and wealth throughout the year were exchanged.
On the 13th day of Nowruz all families get out and throw the germinated wheat in a flowing water, be it a river or a stream. A symbolic gesture of throwing away the pervious years’ bad thing in order to pave way for better things to come in the new year.
May all the readers have a new year that brings health, wealth and abundance!