The Norman Transcript

March 20, 2012

The Iranian new year “Nowruz”

By Semira Mirzaie
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Most Americans celebrate the beginning of a new year on January 1st, while for Iranian Americans in harmony with the rebirth of nature, the new year celebration “Nowruz” always begins on the first day of spring, March 20, or March 21 and continues for 12 days. On the 13th day members of the family end their celebration by going out on a picnic.

Nowruz means new day, new life, and new start. Traditionally, a few weeks before Newruz, Iranians clean and rearrange their homes. Spring cleaning, “Khaneh Tekuni,” is deep cleaning from the top to the bottom of the house, to welcome the new year. Iranians buy or make new clothes and grow seeds as a sign of rebirth or renewal.

Shopping for new clothes and new shoes is one of the happiest memories for most Iranian children. I enjoyed seeing shiny shoes in children's shoe stores, shiny girl's shoes in different colors and designs with shiny bows, flowers, butterflies and many more designs. However this tradition of new clothes has changed over the years because people buy clothes, shoes and accessories more often.

Before Nowruz, Haji Firooz characters wearing makeup and red costume appear all over the cities, singing happy songs, dancing and playing a tambourine, kettledrum and trumpet. He spreads the news and good cheer of new year, and people enjoy his music while they are shopping. Amoo Nowruz or the uncle of Nowruz sometimes appears along with Haji Firooz, more respected, always older character. He tells the old story of Nowruz and gives the gifts and candies to the children. He is like Santa Claus and wears a costume with the white beard and mustache.

Chahar Shanbeh Soori held the last Tuesday of the year is one of the symbolic and meaningful celebrations. Family, friends and neighbors get together and set up piles of wood or brush in the streets and start lighting the piles right after the sunset. Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, “zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man”, the special song means my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine. Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire. During Chahar Shanbeh Soori, in order to make wishes come true, it is customary to eat a mixture of seven dried nuts and fruits such as pistachios, roasted chic peas, almond, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins.

Before the end of the night, some people, especially children, go to the neighbors' houses for treats, and bang in a bowl or pans with spoon and ask for treats. This tradition is called gashog-Zany, similar to the Halloween tradition in United States.

Before the end of the night, some people, especially children, cover themselves with sheets or fabric and go to the neighbors' houses for treats. They take a bowl or pots and spoon, and instead of ringing the bell, they bang in a bowl or pans with spoon and ask for treats. This tradition is called gashog-Zany, similar to the Halloween tradition in United States.

Hafte Seen (seven S's) table is one of the new year traditions. In this ceremonial table, traditionally, Iranians put seven items starting with Persian letter “seen” or “S” in English.

Each of seven S is important symbol:

1. Sabzeh (grown wheat or lentil) for rebirth

2. Samanu (flour and sugar) for sweetness of life

3. Sir (Garlic) for health

4. Sekeh (coin ) for prosperity and wealth

5. Senjed (dried fruit of Lotus tree) for love

6. Somaq (sumac berries) for warmth

7. Serkeh (vinegar) for patience

In addition to these seven items, more items on this table, have particular meanings. For example, painted or decorated eggs represent fertility. A mirror represents image of honesty and reflection of life. Goldfish represent life. Holy book such as the Avesta, Qur'an, Bible, Torah, or Kitáb-i-Aqdas, represent religious beliefs. Iranians put a poetry book, almost always either the Shahnameh or the Divan of Hafiz or Rumi.

All Iranians participate in this celebration regardless of their religious beliefs.

The family sits around the table waiting for new year to come. When the new year arrives, we kiss, hug and say happy new year to each other. Right after new year begins the father gives the new paper money to each family member, starting with the oldest to the youngest.

Interestingly, most people stop in banks before holidays and ask for new paper money. I still can remember the smell of new year paper money, the smell of fresh ink and new paper, new money, without the smell of used money. We follow this tradition in Norman. Every year when we ask for new unfolded money bank teller wonders why!! Family members also exchange gifts.

Special food include rice mixed with herbs, fish, and quiche. I am confident this tradition is the one that will never go away, because over the years I hear from Iranians who live abroad talk about special food for new year feast. Either they cook in their homes and invite the people to join or they are invited to another home for special new year food.

Gathering and visiting with our relatives is another important tradition of the Iranian new year. We follow the tradition and respect the older family member such as grandparents, so we visit them first. Also, relatives, grandparents, uncles and aunts give the new paper money to the children while they are visiting with them. Holiday visitation has become less common, but it is a great tradition. During the years these kind of broad visitation is getting smaller and smaller, especially new generations, travel during the new year holidays instead of visit relatives. Visiting is a great tradition to see at least once a year people we know and reunite with them. Since we have moved to Norman, we try our best to keep our traditions as much as possible. Of course visitation is very limited, and even sending new year cards to relatives to Iran or all around the world is limited, as we E-mail each other rather than writing on the cards.

Sizdeh bedar is the last day of Iranian holiday celebration. People go out on a picnic. They eat, laugh, sing, dance, play games such as chess, backgammon, cards, volleyball, and celebrate the end of happy holiday season.

I consider myself lucky to have seen and celebrated Nowruz in Iran, which I always treasure. Now I can still follow our countries traditions and celebrate with my family and friends here in Norman .

Celebrations of the new year are very common around the world, but some cultures observe differently. The good thing is most people celebrate and have a happy time especially for new year. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we can travel and be at the time of new year all around the world, to see and to learn different new year tradition.

Semira Mirzaie is a resident of Norman.