Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, which begins on the spring equinox (21 March), marking the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar.
This is one of humanity’s oldest holidays, which predates the Persian Empire and can be traced back 5,000 years to the Sumerian and the Babylonian civilisations.
The build-up to Nowruz begins a month before the festival. Each of the four Tuesdays falling before Nowruz is dedicated to a different element. First is Water Tuesday, where water renews nature. Next is Fire Tuesday which honours fire as a method rebirth. Then it is Earth Tuesday marking the revival of the earth. Finally, it is Wind Tuesday when the wind opens the buds and marks the arrival of Spring.
Like a lot of spring festivals, this idea of purification and starting again is key and activities like spring cleaning, planting trees, make new clothes and painting eggs are popular.
Preparations for Nowruz celebrations in Iran begin weeks before the start of spring, including house-cleaning (khaneh takani). Families also grow sabzeh (wheat, barley, mung bean or lentils) in a dish.
When the greens sprout after a couple of weeks, the dish is placed on the Haft-seen table, which is the focus of Nowruz observance. It is joined by six other symbolic items which start with the Persian letter “seen” or S, making seven, a sacred number in Zoroastrianism. They are:
- seeb (apples) – symbol of health and beauty
- senjed (dried oleaster berries) – wisdom and rebirth
- samanu (wheat pudding) – strength/justice
- somaq (sumac) – patience
- serkeh (vinegar) – age/patience
- seer (garlic) – cleansing of body and environment
The Haft-seen spread also includes other items such as a mirror, symbolising reflection; coloured eggs, for fertility; and goldfish in a bowl, which represent life.