Persian tradition is one filled with many festivities. Nowruz is by far the most important one. Nowruz translates to “new day” from Farsi. The spring festival is a representation of centuries of Persian tradition, and is one that is celebrated regardless of religious affiliation. Today, Nowruz symbolizes Persian culture’s resilience through the face of a great deal of diversity.
The Nowruz celebration spans across the course of thirteen days. The first day aligns exactly with the first day of spring. Just as the new season begins, people join in on entering a new phase of life, jumping into the new year with much joy and happiness.
The Persians are big fans of symbolism, and therefore take the notion of “jumping into the new year” to symbolic heights. Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated on the last Wednesday before Nowruz. The event translates to “red Wednesday,” the reason being that after people have gathered brushwood in an open outdoor space, they make a bonfire and jump over the flames. It is seen as a purificatory practice, leaving one’s transgressions and worries in the prior year behind and jumping into the new year with a fresh start.
In addition to Chaharshanbe Suri, the preparation for Nowruz begins well in advance of the actual day of the event. Like in other cultures, where children receive gifts to celebrate the new year (i.e. hong bao, or red envelopes, in Chinese culture), children are excited about Nowruz’s arrival, as it often brings with it gifts and new clothes. A standard custom is to give crisp one dollar bills to children. The preparation of the haft-sin altar is an instrumental aspect of Nowruz festivities. Haft-sin, or the seven S’s, is a major Nowruz tradition. The haft-sin altar includes seven items starting with the letter S or Sin (S in the Persian alphabet). The items each have their own distinct symbolic meaning.
Sabzeh: Wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish - symbolizing rebirth
Samanu: A sweet pudding made from wheat germ - symbolizing affluence
Senjed: The dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love
Sir: Cloves of garlic - symbolizing medicine
Sib: Red apple - symbolizing beauty / health
Somaq: Sumac berries - symbolizing the color of sunrise
Serkeh: Vinegar - symbolizing age / patience
Households begin to prepare the sabzeh nearly 15 days before Nowruz comes. Grains of wheat or lentil are left in water to germinate. Once the grain has germinated, it is spread over a dish to grow. Once Nowruz has arrived, nearly two weeks later, the grains have produced beautiful, fresh green blades, symbolic of the arrival of spring.
In addition to the preparation of the haft-sin, homeowners complete a thorough cleaning of their homes by washing all rugs, cleaning all furniture and making all necessary repairs to the house.
And finally, after much anticipation, Nowruz arrives! The event is usually a huge family celebration, in which family members embrace each other and wish each other well for the new year. The most important part of the day is, of course, enjoying delicious Persian food.
The most traditional Persian dish that is served on Nowruz is called sabzi polo ba mahi, which includes steamed basmati rice mixed with herbs served alongside fried fish. There are multiple versions of basmati rice that can be served on Nowruz, including plain white basmati rice mixed with hints of saffron or white basmati rice mixed with lentils and raisins (polo adas). The most popular Iranian rice dish served on Nowruz, and one of the most delicious rice dishes of Persian food as a whole, is sabzi polo. The rice contains cilantro, parsley, chives and dill and is a Persian New Year, or Nowruz, classic. While the herbed basmati rice is absolutely delicious on its own, everybody loves the thin layer of crispy basmati rice that forms at the bottom of the pot. Tadig, as it is known as, it one of the most beloved aspects of Iranian food.
Fesenjan is another dish served at some Nowruz festivities. Given its sweet flavor, coming from the combination of Medjool dates and pomegranate juice, the sweetness of the vegetarian Persian stew is seen as a symbol of a sweet new year to come. The stew is not often served on its own, but instead usually paired with steamed white basmati rice and tadig.
While Persian food is delicious all year round, there’s something special about enjoying it in the company of close family and friends to celebrate the new year.
After twelve days of well wishes and family and friend visits to celebrate Nowruz, the festivities finally come to an end on the thirteenth day. People usually spend the thirteenth day in the open country, as it’s often considered unlucky to spend the day at home. The fresh fields of the spring season and the fragrant smell of flowers represent a great start to the spring season.
While Nowruz may only last thirteen days in the year, Persian food can fortunately be enjoyed all year round. Whether you’re looking to satisfy your tadig craving or looking for a vegetarian Persian stew, Baaz Bites is only a click away!
The following excerpt is modified from the work of Professor Ehsan Yarsharter