Global Holidays at Home: Norooz & the Persian New Year

In the series of international new year celebrations that begin January 1 and unfold throughout the winter, the last “New Year” comes around March 21, the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring.

Persian New Year (March 20, 2017), called Norooz in Iran, is celebrated by people in countries around Central Asia and Southwest Asia, as well as Iranians throughout the world. Teach your kids about the interesting foods and special purifying techniques to celebrate this holiday in classic Middle Eastern style.

Ancient Days

The 3,000-year-old tradition is a secular celebration in Iran, observed by people of all faiths. But for Zoroastrians, it’s also a holy day. In Zoroastrianism, the new year comes at the bidding of a mythical Persian king of antiquity, who rescued all living creatures from being destroyed by a behemoth winter season. The celebration of that king’s victory is Norooz.

Seasonally, Norooz happens only a few weeks from the Jewish festival of Purim. Indians also commemorate the start of spring with a festival around the same time. These similar festivities in different cultures may point to Norooz being a more widely celebrated festival in ancient times, when the Persian Empire spread extensively throughout the Middle East.

Since the beginning, the “new start” of Norooz has meant preparing with a big spring cleaning, or a purging of the old year. Traditionally, each family member takes part in the spring deep clean, armed with some rubber gloves and a sponge. Well, maybe those aren’t the ancient cleaning tools, but they’re close enough!

The spring spruce-up also includes your wardrobe – replacing your old duds with new outfits as a good omen for the new year. On the eve of the holiday, families create their own small bonfires and jump over them, to purge the darkness of the old year while jumping through into the light of a new year.  Jumpers ask the fire to “take my yellow (illnesses during winter) and "give me your red" (rosy-cheeked health for the new season).

Thirteen Days of Tradition

Practice the sacred tradition of Haft Seen with your family this year. On the first day of the new year, fill a table in your home with seven traditional foods, which will remain dressed on the table for the next thirteen days. Along with flowers, goldfish, a mirror, candles and a painted egg, you’ll make the seven traditional foods of the holiday, which all begin with the letter “s.” These food items stay on the table until the end of  Norooz, thirteen days later.

Dress your table with pretty displays of each element. You can give your kids the responsibility for one or two items each. Leave the presentation up to their wild imaginations. Get out some ribbon, food coloring, pretty dishes, or other craft items to help.

Renewal is symbolized by lentil or wheat sprouts, growing in a dish, called sabzeh. Samanu is a wheat germ pudding, which symbolizes affluence. Dried lotus fruit, or dried figs, called senjed, symbolize love. Garlic, sir, is a symbol of medicine. For health and beauty, there are apples, sib. Sumac berries symbolize the sunrise, but if these elude you, go for cranberries. Finally, the kid with the short stick gets to display vinegar, serkeh, which symbolizes age and patience.

Set the Norooz Haft Seen table with these items and leave them for the duration of the festival. On the thirteenth day, you have a whole other celebration.

Iranians spend the thirteenth day of the new year in the park, as an omen for good luck. Take your family out on a nature walk, not just for luck, but also to get rid of the wheat sprouts. Traditionally, you must throw the sprouts into a lake, river, or other body of water to continue the cycle of growth in nature.  You should also make a wish for the new year by tying a knot into a single blade of grass – and if you can master that, you can probably get your wish too!

Festival of Cookies

Most holidays are a good excuse for sweets, and Norooz is no different. Bake a good variety of cookies to let the fun begin! Kids will like decorating your cookies with crushed pistachios and forming them into appropriate new year shapes – go for goldfish or blossoms, if you’re stuck.

Start out with two traditional favorites: nan-e berenji, and nan-e nokhodchi. Both recipes are gluten and dairy-free, and made with non-traditional flour bases.

Nan-e berenji is a rice flour and rosewater cookie. Have your kids help you shape them into nice round balls before baking and sprinkle poppy seeds on top. For nan-e nokhodchi, you’ll need chickpea flour, rosewater and cardamom, as well as some canola oil and sugar. Press these into the shape of a four-leaf clover before baking, and top with pistachios.

Need more cookie ideas? Check out My Persian Kitchen for dozens of recipes. Walnut cookies, marzipan cookies, and saffron and raisin cookies are among the incredible variety of different flavors. 

Once your cookie collage is complete, you can put it on the Haft Seen table, with one notable exception: this is a decorative plate of brilliance that your kids can devour!

Will you be celebrating Norooz this year? What part are you most excited about? Share with us!

Tags : celebrations   holidays from around the world   global citizen   norooz   iranian holidays   middle eastern holidays   

Maya Slavin
Those cookies sound amazing