Nowruz: Happy New Year [Again]!

March 20-21 marks the first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox – halfway between the shortest day of the year [Yule, the winter solstice], and the longest [duh, the summer solstice].

In Persia [modern-day Iran], the beginning of spring is also one of the biggest feasts and celebrations of the year: Nowruz.  Always excited to have another food-filled holiday to celebrate, we thought we’d take a closer look.

Nowruz marks the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. In Persian, Nowruz literally means “The New Day,” and dates back at least as far as 500 BC. While Nowruz has ancient Zoroastrian roots, the holiday has been celebrated through the advent of Islam, through Turkic, Mongol and Ottoman invasions, and today is widely celebrated as a non-religious holiday.

Nowruz traditions include a thorough pre-new year house-cleaning, in preparation for the many visitors families will receive over the holiday. People dress in new clothes, and go visiting – younger folks visit the elders first, and later those visits are reciprocated. Because of the volume of visits, lots of pastries and cookies need to be prepared in advance, and stocks of fruits and nuts set in the pantry.

Nowruz tradition dictates that whatever a person does on Nowruz will set the precedent for the rest of the year. Behaving kindly to the relatives, friends and neighbors on Nowruz will help insure that the new year will be a good one.

Typically, on the first day of Nowruz, family members gather for a meal and gift exchange.  Nearby is a table full of symbolic decorations, called the Haft-Sin. Haft-Sin is a Persian traditional decoration for new year. [“Haft” is “7” in Farsi. And “Sin” is “S” in Farsi.] The components vary, but the table is often set with items symbolizing the seven elements of life, namely, fire, earth, water, air, plants, animals and humans.

A Haft-Sin table might be decorated with the following items:

  • Sabzeh – (Persian: سبزه‎)-wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolising rebirth;
  • Samanu – (Persian: سمنو‎)-sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolising affluence;
  • Senjed – (Persian: سنجد‎)-dried oleaster fruit – symbolising love;
  • Sir – (Persian: سیر‎)- garlic – symbolising medicine;
  • Sib – (Persian: سیب‎)- apples – symbolising beauty and health;
  • Somāq – (Persian: سماق‎) sumac fruit – symbolising (the color of) sunrise;
  • Serkeh – (Persian: سرکه‎) – vinegar – symbolising old-age and patience.

Some favorite dishes for the Nowruz feast include Sabzi Polo Mahi, which is rice with green herbs served with fish. The traditional seasoning for Sabzi Polo are parsley, coriander, chives, dill and fenugreek. Another favorite is Reshteh Polo: rice cooked with noodles which is said to improve impart success in the new year. An herb and vegetable souffle, whimsically called Kookoo Sabzi, is also traditionally served for dinner at New Year.  It is a light and fluffy omelet made from parsley, dill, coriander, spinach, spring onion ends, and chives, mixed with eggs and walnut.

Follow the links above to recipes for these vibrant, celebratory dishes, and Nowruz Mubarak [Happy New Year!]!