Nowruz celebrates the beginning of the year and is one of the oldest celebrations of the ancient Iran. In countries like Iran and Afghanistan where the Hijri calendar is used, Nowruz is the beginning of the New Year. In Tajikistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Syria, Iraq, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Albania, China, Turkey, Turkmenistan, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan Nowruz is a national holiday. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution and marked March 21 as “World Nowruz Day” on the calendars. This was the first time in history that Iranian Nowruz was recognized as an international occasion.
Nowruz is a series of festivals and events. New Year’s Eve or Nowruz celebrations in Iran have several programs which begins with the Chaharshanbe Soori Festival (the last Wednesday of the year). After Chaharshanbe Soori we have the last Thursday of the year when people go to the graves and tombs of the dead to visit their no-longer living loved-ones. The third program, which is the most popular in South Khorasan, is Alfa (الفه). This ceremony is also held in tombs, cemeteries or mosques, and is to honor and respect the dead. In this ceremony, local pastries and cakes (Ghottab – bread – gak) are served.
Celebrating the Chaharshanbe Soori, which we have in all the cities and villages of Iran, is such that during the last Wednesday night of the year (close to Tuesday’s sunset), people will lit fire outside the house, in front of the house, or in any suitable space, and jump passed the fire and sing a song to burn the old year’s illnesses and worries to start the New Year and Nowruz with ease and joy.
In the last few days of the year, the whole house and its appliances and furniture should get cleaned and washed up. In the past, they believed that the spirits of the dead would return to their homes on the first day of the year, and would have been happy if the stove was clean, the house was tidy and decorated. But if they were dirty and unclean or if they didn’t have the 7Sin, they would curse that house and be upset for the whole year coming. This ritual was held in various countries including Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Haji Firouz is one of the most famous Nowruz rituals, which shows and promises the arrival of Nowruz with its special dress, such as red shirts, sharp pointed tassels and black face. Haji Firouz symbolizes the Siavash myth. His black face is a sign of his return from the world of the dead, his red dress symbolizing Siavash’s red blood, and his joy for Siavash’s resurrection.
A symbolic illustration of Nowruz is setting up a decorative table called, Haft-Sin in every home. Haft-Sin has evolved from Haft-Shin of the Kayanids dynasty era to its current Haft-Sin. Haft-Shin was initially comprised of (شمع، شکر، شراب، شیر، شربت, شانه،شیرینی ) literally meaning (honey, milk, wine, pure sugar, a candle, sweets, and fruits). Today the Haft-Sin table includes seven items specifically starting with the letter S or Sin (س in the Persian Alphabet) which have their own symbolic meaning. The most common Haft Sin items are:
sabzeh(سبزه) wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth. samanu (سمنو) a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence. senjed (سنجد), the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love. Sir (سیر) garlic – symbolizing medicine, Sib (سیب) apples – symbolizing beauty and health. sekkeh (سکه)- coins – symbolizing prosperity and wealth. serkeh (سرکه)- vinegar – symbolizing age and patience. Other non-S items of historical, cultural or national patriotic significance on the table display may include: lit candles (enlightenment and happiness), a mirror (self-reflection and introspection), decorated eggs, one for each member of the family (fertility), a bowl with goldfish (life).
Traditionally, families attempt to set a beautiful Haft-Sin table and above all they put up the Holy Quran and a mirror, and then set up the rest of the table.
In the ancient Iran they named the thirteenth day of the month the “shooting day” (tir rooz). After celebrating for 12 days reminiscing the 12 months of the year, the 13th day of Nowruz is when people go to gardens, deserts, or even out of town to rejoice and celebrate this day and and tie the grasses or their Sabzeh (from their Haft-sin table) as a sign of happiness and blessings and run it into the flowing water and end the Nowruz Holidays.