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Nowruz: the Persian New Year

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In many countries around the world, New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1st with fireworks and festivities with family / friends the evening before.
But this is not the only type of New Year’s celebration and not everyone celebrates on January 1st.
In some articles, we’ll look at New Year’s traditions from around the world to understand the way different cultures celebrate the year to come.


The Persian New Year, also called Nowruz or Norooz, is a 13-day spring festival that reaches far back into ancient times, and many of the traditions associated with it are still celebrated in Iran and other parts of the Middle East and Asia, former parts of ancient Persian empires.
It is celebrated on or around the vernal equinox in March.
The Persian name “Nowruz” consist of two words: “now” or “no” meaning new and “ruz” or “rooz” meaning day which, if put together, literally means new day.
It emerged as people of these areas of the world left the nomadic life and established settlements, which started a new phase in human civilization.
The celebration is not connected to religion and is based on astronomical celestial events even though it is deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion.

Official records of Nowruz did not appear until the 2nd century, but most historians believe its celebration dates back at least as far as the 6th century BC!
King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history.
Seasons played a vital part then.
Everything depended on the four seasons: after a sever winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion with mother nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young. It was the dawn of abundance, and Jamshid symbolizes the person who introduced Nowruz celebrations.
In 1725 BC, the world’s first philosopher and prophet of the Zoroastrian religion named Zarathushtra, improved the ancient Indo-Iranian calendar, and the Zoroastrian year starts with this date.
Zarathushtra established an observatory in the modern day province of Sistan in southeastern Iran and with his knowledge in astronomy he was able to establish a solar calendar consisting of 365 days, 5 hours and 48 minutes.
During the 6th century BC, the magush, priests of the Zoroastrian fire temples, who acted both as fire keepers and astronomers, calculated that the spring equinox of the northern hemisphere to occur on March 20 or 21, a date that marked the first day of the Persian solar calendar.
The priests were closely associated with the events at the city of Parsa, probably better known as Persepolis.
The city, founded by the Persian king Darius the Great in 515 BC, was the ceremonial capital city of the Persian empire, as well as the spring residence of the kings.
The kings invited noblemen from all of the provinces of the empire to Persepolis, regardless of ethnicity and religious beliefs, to celebrate Nowruz.
During the morning hours, priests prayed and performed rituals which were followed by feasts and entertainments in the evenings and nights.
Unlike many other ancient Persian festivals, Nowruz persisted as an important holiday even after Iran’s conquest by Alexander the Great in 333 BC and the rise of Islamic rule in the 7th century AD.

Even though Nowruz is a celebration of a celestial event, it is deeply rooted in the mythology of the Persians, focused on the philosophical aspects of light conquering darkness, good conquering evil, the warmth of spring conquering the cold winter. According to ancient mythical stories written in the Persian epic Shahnameh, Nowruz was introduced during the reign of the mythical king named Jamshid, who defeated the evil demons and made them his servants as he captured their treasures and jewels. He then became the ruler of everything on earth except the heavens, while the world was devastated after the war between him and the demons.
The trees were dead and had lost all their leaves, and earth had turned into a dark and lifeless place. For reaching the heavens, Jamshid ordered the demons to build him a throne made out of the jewels he had captured. When it was finished, he sat on it and commanded the demons to lift him high up into the sky. As he was sitting on his throne, sun rays hit the jewels and the sky was illuminated with all the world’s colors. The rays beaming from Jamshid revived all trees and plants and turned them green and full of leaves. Life on earth began to thrive as Jamshid rose like the sun. People were amazed by the sight of Jamshid and overwhelmed him with even more treasures and jewels.
This day of celebration was named Nowruz and it marked the first day of the year. Jamshid later rescued his people from a harsh winter that would have killed all creatures on earth.
Mythological survival stories with Jamshid as the main character is considered to be mythical symbols regarding the historical events of when Indo-Iranian Aryans abandoned their neolithic lifestyles as hunters-gatherers and became settlers on the Iranian mainland. Settlements were profoundly dependent on their crops and in turn dependent on the outcome of the seasons.
Thus the spring equinox marked an important event in their lives.

Ancient observances of Nowruz focused on the rebirth that accompanied the return of spring, and traditions included feasts, exchanging presents with family members and neighbors, lighting bonfires, dyeing eggs and sprinkling water to symbolize creation.
The main event was celebrated on 20 or 21 March every year and Persian kings greatly emphasized its importance and invited people from around the empire who were of different ethnicities and followers of different religions, to the royal court for celebrations and receiving gifts.

Traditionally, on the night of the last Tuesday and the following morning of the last Wednesday of the year, a fire festival called Chaharshanbe Suri is arranged which translates literally as “the Red Wednesday”.
On this night, seven bonfires are lit and people gather around to jump over each bonfire, metaphorically meaning that one gives their sickness to the fire and receives health and warmth.
A character called Haji Firuz , dressed in red clothes with a dark-painted face, sings, plays instruments and entertains people. During ancient times, this pre-celebration was arranged in order to announce people that Nowruz was near.
Prior to celebrations, Iranian families start the yearly spring cleaning of their homes, called khaneh-tekani in Persian, translated as house-shaking.
After the household work is finished, the ceremonial Nowruz spread is prepared, called Haftsin, meaning seven S’s .
The number seven has a sacred meaning in Persian philosophy and permeates many elements of the culture.
Sabzeh, Sown wheat, symbolizes the rebirth of nature.
Samanu, Sweet pudding made of wheat sprouts, symbolizes the sweet moments of life.
Sib, Red apple, symbolizes beauty.
Senjed, Sweet silver berry,symbolizes love.
Sir, Garlic, symbolizes health.
Sumaq, The color of a Persian spice, symbolizes the color of dawn prior to sunrise and the victory of light over darkness.
Serkeh, Vinegar, symbolizes old age and patience.
The seven articles are prominently exhibited in small bowls or plates on the table, laid with a white cloth that represents spotless purity.

Among the additional items the epic book of Shahnameh, poetry of Hafez or the holy book of Zoroastrianism named Avesta all three symbolizing wisdom, a mirror symbolizing the sky and mindful self-reflection, candles symbolizing the good light and divinity, coins symbolizing wealth, goldfish symbolizing life and the last month of the Persian calendar, hyacinth flowers symbolizing a heavenly scent with the arrival of spring and painted eggs symbolizing fertility and creation.
The Nowruz celebrations ends on the thirteenth day with an event called Sizdeh Bedar meaning “the thirteenth outdoors” . On this day, families arrange picnics and spend time in the nature while enjoying the arrival of spring.
It is also tradition to bring the sown wheat of the Haftsin and throw it into a river or a lake while making a wish.

Nowruz has evolved considerably over time, but many of its ancient traditions, especially bonfires and colored eggs, remain a part of the modern holiday, which is observed by an estimated 300 million people each year.


Images from web – Google Research

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