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 – 1397!
To read more about our 3 weeks in Iran:
I loved learning about this celebration Patti and the pastries look amazing, I don’t blame you for indulging, especially when you had a long walk ahead of you! We are looking forward to Songkran next month, the Thai New Year water festival! I love experiencing holidays while I travel and learning about local traditions.
Amy recently posted…Hiking the Doi Suthep Monk’s Trail and Preparing for Nepal
Looking forward to reading about the Songkran festivals!
Hi Patti and Abi, thanks so much for your fascinating stories about your trip to Iran. I’m glad you finally decided to go and that it exceeded expectations. I hope you love the Camino. I’m sure you’ll enjoy plenty of thinking time and walk off all of those exotic pastries. I shared this post to my Facebook page, Inspiring Women who Travel. I hope you don’t mind.
Thank you, Jane. We actually walked the Camino in 2015, after our 3 weeks in Iran. It was a fantastic experience and it challenged me in every way possible. And, thanks for the share!
I love the idea of a tradition that dates back 3000 years where Spring is the beginning of the new year and it’s fascinating to learn more about Iran. Your statement, “There isn’t a country in the world that does not have its sordid history” is so woefully true and I remember marveling at how incredible friendly people were to us as we traveled through Guatemala and Nicaragua despite all the decades of US meddling and state-sanctioned violence and murder. Perhaps the best thing about travel is, as you point out, the opportunity to meet people who, apart from different cultures, religions and appearances, share the same hopes for a life lived where their needs are met (shelter, food & clean water, safety) with opportunities for themselves and their children.
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I know travel has done that for me, Anita, it has opened my eyes wide! You can’t begin to understand, embrace, appreciate the differences in people until you’ve walked in their shoes, or at least visited their shores. I think that’s called judgement. Yes?
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They certainly know how to bring in a New Year and how lovely that Spring follows the celebrations symbolising a new start. The pastry does look so yummy, like you I would not be able to resist eating lots.
Gilda Baxter recently posted…Pen-Y-Fan The Highest Peak in South Wales
They certainly do, Gilda!
The Middle East in general holds no appeal to me. But Iran is an exception, would love to visit one day and from all I’ve heard (and past friends) they average Iranian is not a religious fanatic. We had an Iranian restaurant in Montreal and the food was fantastic, very cultured. My one condition in going is that I’d need to have someone set me up for beer and wine – living life with no alcohol just barbaric 🙂
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Well… Iran is a dry country but I’m pretty sure there is home brew available. 😉 And yes, Iran is a country where change is blowing in the wind, especially because the majority of the population is young – it’s a generation ready to embrace the western world while still honoring their culture.
Thank you for sharing. It seems that many cultures and religions have festivals welcoming spring. It actually seems fitting to celebrate the new year in the spring when everything is being reborn. Being able to experience Iran with your extended Iranian family, I’m sure made the experience so much richer and intense. Just to underscore our common humanity, the 3 tourists killed in the most recent terrorist attack in Istanbul were two dual citizens of Israel and the United States —and an Iranian.
I’ve always pondered the same question – why isn’t the new year brought in with the first day of spring. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to find peace in the world? Sadly, our current election campaign is not on board – well, at least some are not on board.
Hopefully more people will be able to travel to Iran soon and enjoy the wonderful people and culture. Understanding and friendship breaks down fear.
We can only hope!