Norooz and the Haft Seen
In March of 2015 we were in Iran celebrating Norooz, the Persian New Year, with our BIG extended family. It was my first trip to Iran and it was quite the exciting experience to see the whole country come together in celebration of spring and the new year. It is the #1 celebration in the lives of the Persian people.
Norooz has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and as such it is steeped in tradition and culture. For days leading up to the new year families make ready. You’ve heard of spring cleaning? Cleaning for Norooz takes it to a whole other level of clean. Everyone cleans their house from top to bottom. They buy new clothes and groceries, they prep and cook, and every home sets out the traditional display of Haft Seen.
Traditionally, all 7 items of the Haft Seen begin with the letter S. Each of the items corresponds with the 7 creations and the 7 holy immortals, protectors of all.
- Seeb – an apple symbolizing beauty
- Sabze – green grass growing in a dish symbolizing rebirth
- Somagh – a Persian spice symbolizing the color of the sunrise
- Samanoo – a sweet pudding symbolizing affluence
- Senjed – dried fruit symbolizing love
- Sekke – coins symbolizing wealth
- Seer – garlic which symbolizes medicine and health
One might also find a book of poetry, candles for each member of the family and water. Essentially, they are all tied to the tradition of life. Norooz is all about gathering together in the spirit of welcoming spring and the beginning of a new year; a celebration lasting 13 days!
A Celebration of Family
Families visit among themselves, quite often visiting the home of the eldest first, and then making their way down the family line. Children receive gifts of money and sweets and lots of attention. On the 13th day, the day after the new year, everyone goes outside to embrace mother nature. Parks are bursting at the boundaries with everyone out and about. Picnic baskets, small bbq’s, tea pots, pastries, it’s all there to be shared. And, if an unwed girl so desires, she can tie a knot between blades of green grass and wish for a husband.
Did I mention the food? Oh my, my, my the food. The food is everywhere and everyone is encouraged to eat! You will never meet more hospitable and generous people. The Persian people sincerely consider it an honor to host you in their home.
And the pastry. The pastry is to die for. I’m here to tell you that Persian pastry gives French pastry a run for its money. I ate my weight in pastry; almost to the point of embarrassing myself. All I can say is that it’s a very good thing we walked across Spain after leaving Iran. Most every pilgrim, who walks the Camino de Santiago, will talk about how much weight they lost while walking the Camino, but not me. I ate so much food and pastry while spending 3 weeks in Iran, it took walking across Spain to lose it all!
If there is a downside to traveling in Iran during Norooz, it would be that everywhere you go there are throngs of people and it can take a bit of getting used to. We were fortunate in that we were surrounded by family who knew all of the short cuts. But as I mentioned it is the country’s #1 celebration so schools are closed, people take time away from work and everyone is out and about, taking in the sites, traveling to other parts of the country, visiting friends and family and just generally celebrating life!
All too often the Persian people – and their culture – are misunderstood by the western world. In this especially difficult political climate, here in the United States, the hateful rhetoric seems to overshadow the good. There isn’t a country in the world that does not have its sordid history. I suspect while the world watches our new administration, they are looking at us and shaking their heads in disbelief and judgment. I think the same happens to the good people of Iran, but on a more frequent basis. It’s so easy to target and judge those who appear different from us, isn’t it? They are just people living their best lives. Just like I do. Just like you do.
What I love about traveling the world and learning about other cultures is that it brings home the reality of there being so much more good in the world, than bad. People are inherently good and I for one am incredibly grateful that I can share the good, of the Persian people.
Norooz Mobaarak – 1396!
To read more about our 3 weeks in Iran: