What is Nowruz?
Nowruz or Norooz, pronounced no-rooz, is a combination of two Persian words, “now” for new and “ruz” for day and is the festival that heralds the spiritual new year for Persian and some Central Asian communities, celebrating the start of spring and all that it entails: renewal, rebirth and new beginnings.
Nowruz, which falls on the first day of spring (vernal equinox), is a secular holiday, observed across the faiths and goes back some three thousand years with practices that are partly rooted in the rituals and traditions of Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia, before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.
Where is Norooz Celebrated?
Nowruz is celebrated not just in Iran but also in other countries in Central Asia, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey. The Indian Parsis also observe this holiday.
The New Year is celebrated with friends and family; at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, wishes of Sal-e No Mobarak (Happy New Year) are exchanged, then sweet treats are distributed by the oldest in the family, with the children receiving gifts or money. The immediate days that follow are spent visiting friends and family, a practice very similar to Eid.
A big part of the Nowruz celebrations is the setting of the Haft-Seen table, or the Table of the 7 S’s. a table bedecked with symbolic items representing spring, new beginnings, hope and a lot more.
- Haft = number 7 (in this instance, representing the seven days of Creation)
- Seen = the letter S
So, the Haft-Seen table is a table set specifically for the New Year celebrations with 7 items beginning with the letter S.
In ancient times, reflecting Persia’s Zoroastrian roots, these items would have represented the seven days of creation (rest being the seventh day). They also represented the seven holy immortals protecting them, the Amesha-Spenta.
These seven individuals would have also included the Supreme Creator, Ahura Mazda, the primus inter pares (first amongst equals).
In Zoroastrian tradition, the Holy Beings are the first six emanations of Ahura Mazda, and were responsible for protecting his creations as well as being the source of all future life.
Today, these items retain the spiritual representation of Creation and new beginnings and here is a typical example of what the table would display and what the items represent:
- Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) – rebirth and renewal
- Serkeh (vinegar) – age and patience
- Sumac (Middle Eastern spice) – sunrise, ie. light vs dark, good over evil
- Senjed (dried fruit of the lotus tree) – love and affection
- Seeb (apples) – health and beauty
- Seer (garlic) – medicine, ie. good health
- Samanu (wheat pudding) – fertility and affluence
Besides the 7 S’s, you will also find other symbolic items on the table, such as:
- a mirror to encourage one to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the next
- painted eggs to represent fertility
- real goldfish to represent life
- a special book like the Quran or a compilation of ancient Persian stories, poems etc
- an orange in a bowl of water for the earth, and so on.
Nowruz Recipes from around the World
You'll find a wonderful collection of Nowruz recipes on this page. From the traditional to the not so traditional. Everything you need for a delicious Nowruz, with recipes from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.