History Of The Persian New
Year By Iraj Bashiri
The oldest of
Iranian traditions, Nowruz (also referred to as eyd-i sar-i sal and eyd-i sal-i
now) recalls the cosmological and mythological times of Iran. Its founder is a
deputy of Ahura Mazda on earth, a position that imparts to him and the
celebration a spiritual dimension and a particular sense of secular authority.
The celebration is organized according to the dynamics of love between the
Creator and his creation, the material world. The annual return of the spirits
of the departed to their homes is celebrated by their offsprings according to
primordial rites of which only a faint trace remains among the Persians and the
Parsees of today. But that in no way diminishes the importance of the bond which
is refreshed at every Nowruz.
The word "Nowruz" is a compound of two Persian words, "now" which has the same
etymology as the English word "new" and means new, and the word "ruz" which
means both "day" and "time." Literally meaning the "new day," nowruz is usually
translated as "new year." The Persian Nowruz begins on the first day of spring
(usually the 21st of March). The 21st of March, therefore, is equal to the 1st
day of Farvardin of the Islamic solar calendar.
In the mind of Iranians, the word nowruz invokes colorful images which are
sumptuous, elegant, and opulent as well as delightfully simple, refreshing, and
cordial. Although colored with vestiges of Iran's Mazdian and Zoroastrian past,
the Nowruz celebration is neither religious or national in nature, nor is it an
ethnic celebration. Jewish, Zoroastrian, Armenian and Turkish Iranians and
Central Asians celebrate the Nowruz with the same enthusiasm and sense of
belonging. Perhaps it is this very universal nature of the message of Nowruz
that speaks to its wealth of rites and customs as well as to its being
identified as the unique fount of continuity of the Iranian culture.
Preparation For Welcoming The Nowruz
Sabzeh and Khane
Preparation for the Nowruz
begins early in March with sprouting of sabzeh (lentil, wheat, or barley seeds)
and a thorough khane tekani (house cleaning). The former harks back to the
agrarian background of the Iranian tribes that celebrated the main transitions
in the climate that dictated the dynamics of their lives. The latter, which
entails washing carpets, painting the house, and cleaning the yard and the
attic, stems from the Zoroastrians' preoccupation with cleanliness as a measure
for keeping Evil away from the kingdom of Good.
Symbolically, khane tekani signals to the spirits of the ancestors that their
kin are ready and willing to entertain them. In other words, they are invited to
descend on their previous homes to help them nourish the growth of the sabzeh,
the main source of their sustenance which has been depleted during the long and
cold days of winter.
The sprouting of
seeds and house cleaning are followed by kharid-i Nowruzi (Nowruz shopping).
Nowruz shopping, a family affair performed mostly to engage the children in the
celebration, must include all the members. Everyone must be measured and
outfitted with new clothes, shoes, hats, and the like. In addition, as we shall
see below, the sofreh (Nowruz display cloth) requires certain items--sweetmeats,
confectioneries, candles, fruits, and nuts--which are also bought at this time.
In addition to what is bought, women of the household bake various types of
sweet breads and sew special clothes for the little ones. At the end a trip must
be made to the bank for acquiring shiny, new coins and crisp, fresh banknotes to
give out as eydi (gift) and for the sofreh.