Happy New Year, once again! It's Norouz, the Persian New Year this time, celebrated in a number of Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Albania, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. The rituals of Norouz, with their roots in the Zoroastrian religion, have been observed in some form for over 3000 years. In addition to marking the first day of the year in the Persian calendar, Norouz is a holy day for adherents of Sufism and the Baha'i faith, a mystical day for the Bektashi of Albania, and a day to celebrate family unity for Iranians all over the world.
You'll find a short history of Norouz on the IRNA site, which explains the development of the Persian calendar and the various rites and traditions of Norouz since ancient times. "Today," they conclude, "Norouz is celebrated as splendidly as ever. Setting the Haftsin (Norouz table) and sitting around it at the turn of the year, wearing new garments, presenting Eidi (gifts of crisp paper money) to children, sprinkling rose-water, eating sweets and celebrating sizdeh-be-dar (13th Farvardin or 2nd April) are practiced by Iranians, even those living abroad. Muslim Iranians light candles as a symbol of ancient Persians' respect for fire, and place the Holy Qur'an on the Norouz table to show their esteem for this divine book. In recent years, by honoring the Norouz festival, Iranians have demonstrated their steadfast attachment to their national customs and traditions while firmly believing in the holy religion of Islam."
Similar to the Chinese New Year, Iranian families prepare for Norouz by thoroughly cleaning every part of the house. This practice "is rooted in the belief that the soul of departed family members will come and visit the homes of loved ones on Norouz eve." The halfsin table is prepared with seven articles that symbolize the triumph of good over evil. These are usually: vinegar (serkeh), apple (seeb), garlic (seer), wild olive (senjed), sumac (somaq), juice of germinating wheat or malt mixed with flour (Samanu) and a dish of raised wheat or seeds (Sabzeh).
"Note that all articles begin with the Persian 's' sound," the IRNA site explains. "Number seven has been regarded as magical by Iranians since ancient times and is symbolic of heaven's highest angels. Along with the seven articles, Muslims place the Holy Qur'an and Zoroastrians put the Avesta on their New Year table to implore God's blessings. A jar of water is sometimes added to symbolize purity and freshness, along with bread, a traditional symbol of a sustainer of life. It is usual to see fresh milk, cheese, fruits, dates and coins on the New Year table. Wild olives and apples are symbols of love and pomegranates are fruits venerated by Iranians. Coins are used to symbolize prosperity and spherical sour oranges represent the earth."
Go here to send someone you love a Norouz e-postcard.
Go here to celebrate Norouz by reading a magical story from Persia's rich fairy tale tradition.
For more Persian tales, we recommend these books: The Secret of Laughter by Susha Guppy, Tales of Ancient Persia by Barbara Leonie Picard, and Tales of the Persian Genii by Francis Jenkins Olcott. (Look for the latter in a good library as this 1931 edition is long out of print.) Also recommended, three excellent YA novels: Beast by Donna Jo Napoli, retelling "Beauty and the Beast" in a Persian setting; Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher, loosely based on Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights; and Cry of the Peacock by Gina Nahai, an enchanted story that begins in ancient Persia and ends in contemporary Iran.