Persian New Year
Persian New Year, also called Norooz, occurs each spring, usually on March 20th or 21st depending on when the sun crosses the celestial equator from Southern to Northern hemispheres. It is largely a secular celebration in Western and Central Asian, the Caucuses and the Balkans and is imbued with food traditions, rituals, and symbols that invite celebrants to leave behind the past year and look forward with optimism toward the new year.
To share more about Norooz celebrations, I sat down with my sister Ariana Shabro to chat about this tradition.
What do you consider the core/universal traditions of Norooz?
Setting a Haft-Seen table filled with traditional items that invite good things in the new year is a particularly important part of how families continue the Norooz tradition and it is quite universal as well. Haft-Seen translates to “seven S’s”, so the table is laid with seven items beginning with the letter S. The items on the haft seen should be displayed on a special cloth called a sofreh. My sofreh was given to me as a wedding gift from my mother-in-law. It is made of deep burgundy silk which she and my sister-in-law hand embroidered in gold and silver threads. Taking a picture in front of each haft seen is also customary and creates a sweet archive of a family’s annual celebration.
On the Haft-Seen table pictured here we have:
- Sabzeh, usually wheat grass or lentil beans, representing re-birth
- Seer, garlic representing health
- Seeb, apple representing beauty
- Somāq, sumac representing sunrise
- Serkeh, vinegar representing patience and old age
Other rituals include cleaning the home, purchasing new clothing, and jumping over fire (or candles, as in our household) the week before Norooz, which represents leaving negative aspects of the previous year behind. Usually families begin sprouting wheatgrass in advance of Norooz to place on the Haft-Seen table as well.
Do you have favorite Norooz foods?
Many people in the Persian Diaspora left Iran during political turmoil and moved to the West. How has this history impacted maintaining cultural traditions?
I think when people leave their country, especially under duress, finding others like them to celebrate the good times and positive parts of their culture becomes important. I can't say for sure if it's made Norooz or any other cultural traditions more important, since Norooz is already widely practiced. For all the Iranians I know, regardless of the circumstances of their leaving Iran, their religious background, or whether or not they have Persian community around them, they still maintain some aspects of a Norooz tradition. Every family and ethnic group have their own special additions or modifications, but Norooz is such an ancient and traditional time celebrated by people of all faiths so you will find similarities between the way it continues to be honored in Iran as in the diaspora.
What is one of your favorite Persian New Year memories?
One year I set out cheap candles on the apartment floor and invited a dear Iranian friend over for Norooz. We turned off all the lights off, jumped over them, and then he asked if he could kiss me. At the time I said no but he didn't hold it against me, we're now married! You could say it was the Norooz that started it all.
Susannah and Ariana grew up in Austin with an Iranian father and American mother, and have maintained ties to their Persian roots through food, family, and celebrations. Their paternal family ensured that the sisters were raised in Iranian tradition, and Ariana is now married to an Iranian man and together they are raising a bilingual family that is deeply connected to Persian culture.