March 8, 2005 > Nowruz or No Ruz: A New Day or New Year
Nowruz or No Ruz: A New Day or New Year
by Praveena Raman
Nowruz (variously pronounced as No ruz, Nevruz, Newruz, Nowrooz, Nowroos) or Eid Nowruz, is a festival celebrating the first day of spring and the beginning of a new day or year by Persians from Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq and parts of India, on March 21.
Historically this celebration originated from Zoroastrianism, a religion that was widely practiced in Iran and other areas of the Middle East before the advent of Islam. Zoroaster, the prophet who founded Zoroastrianism, introduced many feasts, festivals and rituals to the seven creations. The last Nowruz, was the most elaborate and celebrated the Lord of Wisdom and the holy fire at the spring equinox. The oldest archaeological record for Nowruz dates back to the Achaemenian period but the celebration as it is now only dates back to the Sassanid period that was the last great Persian Empire before Islam.
Sogul Sayedirashti, who is of Iranian descent, starts preparing for Nowruz a week before March 21. "I set a table covered with a special table cloth called sofreh with seven items starting with the letter 'S,'" said Sayedirashti. "My mother-in law gave me a white cotton cloth with delicate gold threads running through it in various designs."
The seven items starting with the letter S that is set specially for Nowruz are; Samanu, a pudding made of wheat sprouts that signifies a new life; Sib, an apple that represents health and beauty; Senjed, a sweet dried fruit of the Lotus plant representing love; Seer, garlic represents medicine; Sumaq, a ground spice the color of sunrise symbolizes the triumph of good over evil; Serkeh, vinegar represents age and patience; Sabzeh, wheat plant representing birth. Apart from these seven items, a mirror, photographs of family members not present or not alive are also kept on the table. Other items on the table include a Quran, a candle, pastries like baklava, gold coin or Sekke, Sonbol flowers (Hyacinth) and a plate with the word Allah written on the flour.
On the Wednesday before Nowruz a celebration where young people jump over fire as a cleaning ritual shouting, "Give me your beautiful red color and take back my pallor" takes place. Although widely celebrated in Iran, it is only done in restricted places in the U.S. On Nowruz, families wear new clothes, light a candle and sit around the table to read the Quran starting with the eldest person. The New Year arrives at a particular time that varies from year to year.
Afterward, the elders stay home while the younger people go visiting and are given gold coins or aydeh as presents. Sayedirashti said that in America, parents have changed the gold coin giving with exchanging presents. In the evening a feast is prepared and all family members sit down together to eat it. The main dish for Nowruz is a fried fish dish called Saezi Polow Mahi. At the dinner table a live goldfish is also kept, symbolizing fertility. Besides the fish dish another dish called the KooKoo made of herbs and eggs, fried in triangular shapes are also eaten.