The Persian New Year
The Persian New Year
By Zahra Motaghi
The Persian New Year "Nowruz" which is pronounced as no-rooz is a combination of two Persian words. The first word "now" means new and the second word "ruz" means day; together they mean "New Day." Nowruz is the name for the celebrations that observe the New Year for many Persian and Central Asian communities. The exact beginning of the New Year occurs when the season changes from winter to spring (on the vernal equinox), which usually happens on 20 or 21 March each year.
The festivities of Nowruz reflect the renewal of the Earth that occurs with the coming of spring. Activities that celebrate the arrival of Nowruz share many similarities with other spring festivals such as Easter, celebrated by Christians, and the Egyptian holiday called Sham Al-Naseem, which dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. Nowruz is a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years.
Nowruz is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Many people say: Nowruz is just for the children and youngsters; this is because children and young people are the ones who enthusiastically await Nowruz every year and enjoy the most during the celebration. Children usually have a fourteen-day vacation from school.
Throughout the holiday period friends and families with their children gather at each other’s houses for meals and conversation.
Preparing for Nowruz starts a few weeks prior to the New Year with a traditional spring cleaning of the home ( KhanehTekani). At this time it is also customary to purchase new clothing for the family. On the night of the last Wednesday of the old year ChaharShanbeSuri, in Persian, is celebrated. During the night of ChaharShanbeSuri, usually young people and children with the supervision of their parents, traditionally gather and light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames shouting: “Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man” in Persian, which means, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.” With this phrase, the flames symbolically take away all of the unpleasant things that happened in the past year. Because jumping over fire is dangerous, many people today simply light the bonfire and shouts the special phrase without getting too close to the flames.
Families return home after the events of ChaharShanbeSuri and wait together for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs, in Persian called Tahvil-e Sal.
When the New Year is nearing, a special person called Haji Firooz (a figure loved by the children) comes to the neighborhood to sing, dance and spread the news of Nowruz. Haji Firooz is usually dressed in a red satin outfit with his face painted as a disguise. When the New Year is just minutes away families gather together and wait for Tahvil-e Sal to occur. Right after the moment of Tahvil-e Sal, the family exchanges well wishes such as “Happy New Year” or “Sal-e No Mobarak!” in Persian. Next, the eldest in the family distributes special sweets and candies to everyone, and young people and children are given money or other presents. It is also traditional for families and neighbors to visit each other and exchange special gifts.
The thirteenth day of Nowruz is called SizdehBedar, which literally means in Persian “getting rid of the thirteenth.” On this day, families pack a special picnic and go to the park to enjoy food with other families. SizdehBedar marks the end of the Nowruz celebrations, and the next day children return to school.
Books and Movies about Nowruz (for youth)
Celebrating Nowruz: By YassamanJalali and MarjanZamanian. Saman Publishing, 2003
Simple and colorful, this book introduces the Persian New Year to young children. It includes three simple crafts and easy ways to celebrate Nowruz at home and school.
Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year. By NajmiehBatmanglij. Mage Publishers, 2008
This book includes detailed descriptions of Nowruz ceremonies as well as twenty-five recipes for cooking Nowruz dishes with children.
Nowruz and other Festivities in Iran.FarshidEghbal and Sandra Mooney.Eqbal Printing and Publishing, 1996
Babak and Friends: A touching story about an Iranian-American boy who feels pride for his Iranian heritage by learning about Nowruz. This book/movie combination is appropriate for elementary school students.
Children of Heaven, 1999: An Oscar nominated film about a year in the struggles of a working class brother and sister in Tehran whose story overlaps with the Nowruz celebration. This movie is particularly useful for introducing students to the socio-economic diversity of Tehran.
The White Balloon, 1995: In this acclaimed film about a little girl’s Nowruz celebration, Iranian society and its preparations for the New Year are intimately portrayed.
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"...l hope people everywhere will join in observing this Day (Nowruz). At a time of crisis, upheaval and change, including in the very regions where the holiday is rooted, let the spirit of Nowruz prevail."