Saturday, May 21 2022

As the northern hemisphere welcomed the official start of spring on March 20, Iranians, Afghans, those belonging to the Persian and Kurdish diasporas, and many more, also celebrated the start of a new year.

Iran’s solar calendar begins every year on the vernal equinox. Nowruz is a spring festival and New Year celebration named after the Persian word meaning “new day”, according to the United Nations.

Nowruz has been celebrated for over 3,000 years, originally as a feast day observed by the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. Today, according to National Geographic, more than 300 million people still celebrate Nowruz despite a decline in Zoroastrianism and repeated religious conquests against Persian and Kurdish peoples.

Nowruz is an official holiday in Iran and is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolian province of Bayan-Olgii, Tajikistan , Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It has also been recognized by several US presidents, although it is not a federal holiday.

Although celebrations vary greatly from one country, region or diaspora to another, preparations for Nowruz often begin weeks in advance. Iranians often prepare by cleaning their homes and growing sabzeh, beans or sprouts, in a dish.

Other common preparations include placing containers filled with water around the house to banish bad luck and jump over fires. Many children are also beating pots with utensils and collecting candy from neighbors ahead of this festival of new beginnings.

On the last Wednesday before Nowruz, people sometimes jump over bonfires chanting “Give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly paleness,” according to a CNN article. This chant asks the fire to remove all sickness and replace it with vibrant health in the new year.

At the dawn of Nowruz, black-faced entertainers known as Haji Firooz take to the streets dressed in colorful outfits and drumming to welcome the New Year.

Haji Firooz is a controversial figure in Nowruz history, with some tracing the lore to a being who oversaw the eternal flame of Zoroastrianism and others believing he was a black slave who entertained during celebrations. This custom is still widely observed despite these ambiguous beginnings.

Households also set up tables, called haft-seen, where the sprouted sabzeh joins six other symbolic objects whose names all begin with the Persian letter for S.

These seven sacred objects are sabzeh, seeb or apples, senjed, which is a dry fruit, wheat pudding known as samanu, sumac, known in Persian as somaq, serkeh or vinegar, and seer, which is garlic. The paintings also often include candles, eggs, mirrors and a book, such as the Koran or a collection of poems by the Iranian poet Hafez.

For those who celebrate, Nowruz is a time to celebrate the return of light to the world and all that it brings – regeneration, rebirth, fertility, growth and new beginnings.

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