25 03 2009

Did you know what big festivity is going on in the world right now? If you’re Muslim you probably knew, but if you’re not, there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard about this event.

Norouz, or Nowruz (several spellings are accepted), is the Persian New Year and it’s celebrated right now, during two weeks. The exact time of the Persian New Year this year was March 20, at 11:44 GMT.

Norouz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Persian Calendar (start of the spring in the northern hemisphere). Norouz has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion. Today, the festival of Norouz is celebrated in many countries that were territories of, or influenced by, the Persian Empire: Persia (Iran), Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, parts of the Middle East, as well as in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.


Norouz in modern Iran

Preparations for Norouz begin in the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar. The families start preparing with a major spring-cleaning of their houses, the purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year and the purchase of flowers (hyacinths and tulips are popular).

On New Year’s day, families dress in their new clothes, gather around the Haft Sîn table and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged. Then they start the twelve-day celebration by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. During this period you don’t need to call ahead when visiting friends and family – you just pay them unannounced visits, and you get visitors as well. Sounds like a nice tradition to me!

The Haft Sîn

Haft Sîn, or “The Seven ‘S’s” is a major tradition of Norouz. The Haft Sîn table  includes seven items starting with the letter S, or Sîn in Persian.  The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a Haft Sîn table  as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Norouzi visitations and is a reflection of their good taste.

Haft Sîn Table

The Haft Sîn items are:

Sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish (symbolizing rebirth)

Samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ (affluence)

Senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree (love)

Sîr – garlic (medicine)

Sîb – apple (beauty and health)

Somaq – sumac berries (the color of sunrise)

Serkeh – vinegar (age and patience)

Sonbol – hyacinth (flower)

Sekkeh – coins (wealth)

Other items on the table may be: traditional Iranian pastries, candles (enlightenment and happiness), a mirror (cleanliness), decorated eggs (fertility), a bowl of water with a goldfish (life) and a book (wisdom).

Sizdah Bedar

The thirteenth day of the new year festival is Sizdah Bedar (literally meaning “thirteen to out”, figuratively meaning “hit the outdoors on the thirteenth”). This is a day of festivity in the open, often accompanied by music and dancing, usually at family picnics. At the end of the celebrations on this day, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Sîn (which has symbolically collected all sickness and bad luck) is thrown into running water (a river for example) to exorcise the demons from the household. It is also customary for young single women to tie the leaves of the sabzeh before discarding it, so expressing a wish to be married before the next year’s Sizdah Bedar.

Norouz around the world

This past weekend I participated in a great Norouz celebration, with a lot of Iranians here in Québec. There were musical performances, a beautiful Haft Sîn table, a lot of dancing – and the best part: there were people of all ages and everyone had fun together! For me, the celebration included trying to learn how to snap my fingers in the Iranian way and dancing like the Iranians. In short: celebrating Norouz was one of the greatest experiences of this year!


USA and Iran

Norouz was also acknowledged by President Obama. However, he concentrated on political issues in his speech, all the while wishing the people of Iran a happy new year. He even said it in Persian in the end: Sale no mobarak!

Iran’s highest leader, Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, thinks that the speech was just a slogan. He responds to it by saying that the change that the US speak of is yet to be seen. He asks them when they are going to remove the sanctions and when they will stop supporting the sionist regime (Israel). In a TV broadcasted speech he reminds the US that change only in words is not enough. And then the man who has the most power in Teheran adds that Iran is ready to change its politics if the US change theirs.

Ayatolla Ali Khamenei

Ayatolla Ali Khamenei. Image from Hufvudstadsbladet.

Tensions between the US and Iran have “always” existed. Just as a quick reminder of what has happened in the past I will make a short list of important events in the history of these two countries. Reading this list you will hopefully be reminded of why the past 30 years have not been the best possible for the relations between the two countries.

USA and Iran

1953 – the US and the UK help Iranian military to overthrow the elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq, who wanted to nationalize the oil.

1979 – The US supported shah is forced to leave the country due to large protests. Ayatolla Ruhollah Khomeini returns from exile and takes over power. Students take 63 people as hostages in the US embassy in Teheran.

1980 – A secret US operation to free the hostages ends in fiasco. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invades Iran, the war lasts 8 years. The US stand on Iraq’s side.

1981 – The hostage drama at the US embassy comes to an end, after 444 days.

1985-1986 – The US engage in secret talks with Iran and provides the country with weapons in exchange for help with freeing an American hostage in Lebanon.

1988 – The US shoot down an Iranian passenger airplane over the Persian Bay by mistake. 290 people die.

1995 – President Clinton introduces sanctions and accuses Iran of supporting terrorists.

2001 – CIA claims that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons.

2002 – President George W Bush says that Iran takes part in an “Axis of Evil” together with Iraq and North Korea, and constitutes one of the greatest threats against the US. The speech causes major anger in Iran.

2008 – Barack Obama is elected President of the United States of America and promises talks with Iran without advance demands.