Simple Preparations For Nowruz
I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.
It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity.
What is Nowruz?
Nowruz, meaning new day is the Persian New Year celebration recognized over thirteen days ceremonially celebrating harmony within the rebirth of nature, in where everyone is greeted by saying Nowruz Pirooz “New day be prosperous”. The return of spring holds great symbolism and significance culturally for the festival of Nowruz, and as the story goes, the spirit of noon known as Rapithwina triumphs good over evil and joy over sorrow as she is considered to be driven underground by the Spirit of Winter during the colder months, rebirthing and reawakening in the springtime.
Today I share some answers from two mothers in the Whole Family Rhythms Circle Leila and Tahereh who celebrate Nowruz with their families, each in their own unique way. Thank you to Leila and Tahereh for so generously taking the time to share these answers with us.
In your words, what is Nowruz?
Tahereh shares that “Nowruz is a holiday celebrating the start of Spring and is commemorated every year on the Vernal or Spring Equinox. It also, for many cultures, marks the beginning of the new year, so it can also be viewed as a New Year holiday. Nowruz translates into “New Day” in Farsi otherwise known as Persian, honoring the return of spring and rejoicing in the start of a fresh new year after a long winter. It is a celebration of the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian new year. Nowruz is celebrated on the spring equinox, usually on or around March 20 or 21. The festival celebration of Nowruz can be traced back to its beginnings in Ancient Persia, specifically the Achaemenid Empire, and is primarily celebrated in parts of the Middle East and Asia which once made up part of the Persian Empire or were greatly influenced by it. These countries include Iran, the Kurdish communities in Iraq and in Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikstan, Azarbijan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kosovo, Albania, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan, Mongolia, China’s Uyghur region, parts of India and Pakistan and many other places”.
What does Nowruz symbolize and mean to you and your family?
Leila shares that “in our home, Nowruz is the celebration of spring and a fresh new start. It is a celebration of nature and all the beauty that springtime brings with it. It is a time for personal growth, of setting new intentions for the new year, much like new year’s resolutions, and a renewal of the physical spaces around us, though most importantly it is a tradition that keeps us rooted to our culture and heritage. It is a holiday that makes you pause in the business of life and encourages you to enjoy the simple pleasures of family food and friends while welcoming the fresh start of a new year”.
Can you draw a parallel between this festival and the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes?
What values do you hope to bring to light by honoring this tradition?
Tahereh explains that “Nowruz is a holiday that embraces and embodies the natural world and changing season. The purpose of Nowruz is to welcome spring and celebrate the coming of a new year. The décor and traditions of Nowruz are all centered around the season of spring and include many elements of nature and the natural world around us as the season is changing. Families will often count the days down until the spring equinox, watching for the first signs of spring to immerse together”.
For Leila, her daughters are aged three and one and are first generation Iranian-Americans. “My family has always celebrated Nowruz, but since having children, it has become so much more important to me to keep up our traditions around this holiday. I want my daughters to grow up with strong ties to their culture and I want them to find comfort in these Nowruz traditions. I want them to feel a sense of pride when they speak to others about their Iranian heritage and a large part of that is making sure that they feel a connection to the Nowruz celebrations, as it is the only Iranian holiday we celebrate”.
How do you set the scene for Nowruz? Is there anything you do in advance before the first day to mark or model that this time is coming? Decor? Creating a small scene on a table?
In the days leading up to Nowruz, Tahereh shares that “on the night of the last Wednesday before Nowruz, known as Charshanbe Suri, which translates to Red Wednesday, our family gathers in a symbolic custom of saying goodbye to winter and warding away any evil spirits before the upcoming new year. This custom includes gathering small firewood pieces, making a small fire in an open aired space and then jumping over the flames. Fireworks and firecrackers are often used as well as pots and spoons to bang together in a symbolic banishment of evil spirits. The streets are filled with families and friends gathered outdoors, bundled in their jackets sharing cups of hot tea and eating dried fruits and nuts such as dried mulberries, dried apricots, pistachios, and walnuts.
In the following days leading up to Nowruz, we begin our preparation for the big day. Spring cleaning begins in earnest, taking out the old, cleaning and freshening our home, rugs are taken outside to be dusted and walls wiped of grime. We decorate our home with fresh cut flowers, specifically tulips, and hyacinths.
Next, we prepare for the Haft Seen. The Haft Seen is our decorative tablescape that we set up for Nowruz, containing several different items that symbolically represent the coming of spring, well wishes, and hopes for the new year. The Haft Seen table translates to “Seven S’s” and is the most common of the Nowruz decorations, we place seven of these items on our table beginning with the letter “Seen” or “S” with these items including and represent the following:
Sabzi – freshly grown wheat or lentils that we sprout and grow in small dishes to be placed on our table, symbolizing greenery, nature, new life and rebirth.
Sib – fresh apples that we arrange in a bowl to symbolize beauty and good health for the upcoming year.
Senjid – sea buckthorn, a dried plant that represents both wisdom and love.
Serkeh – vinegar that we place on the table to symbolize age and patience.
Samanu – sweet paste from germinated wheat that we use in an ancient dish, with the roots of this dish being traced to the Ancient Persian Empire, it takes several days to make due to the soaking of the wheat and we often do this as a whole family activity, symbolizing affluence.
Somaq – deep red sumac berries that we dry and ground to create a tangy spice used in our cooking, symbolizing the color of sunrise and the coming of a new day.
Seer – fresh whole garlic cloves that we lay out on the Haft Seen table to represent medicine.
In addition to the Seven “Seen” items, we also place these following decorative items to ourNowruz tablescape:
Sonobul – hyacinth flowers, representing the coming of spring.
Sekkeh – coins we include on the table representing wealth and prosperity for the upcoming new year.
Sham – candles that we light on the table representing enlightenment and happiness.
Qur’an – the holy book of Muslims and books by famous ancient poets such as Hafiz or Rumi are placed on the table to symbolize respected and honored literature.
Decorated Eggs – these are included on the table, symbolizing fertility.
Ayneh – a mirror we use to symbolize self -reflection and introspection.
Mahi Talai – a fish bowl with a few goldfish that we sometimes place on the table to symbolize life.
Haft Meve – lastly, we place a combination of seven colorful dried fruits and nuts such as raisins, prunes, apricots, almonds, senjid, walnuts and pistachios that have been soaked in water”.
How do you prepare the day before Nowruz? Food? Decor? Rituals?
On the last Tuesday night before Nowruz, Leila shares that “everybody goes outside and jumps over seven bonfires while saying “Zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man!” translating to, “Your fiery red color is mine and my sickly yellow paleness is yours”, an ancient Zoroastrian purification ritual.
“On Nowruz, we always wear new clothes to represent a fresh start, and when the equinox is in the middle of the night, we always go to sleep wearing new pajamas! We have family over and we stand around the Haftseen table together, holding hands as we ring in the new year, followed by celebrating with a big meal of fish and rice”.
How are children involved during Nowruz? What do they look forward to the most?
Leila and Tahereh both shared that children are involved in every aspect of the Nowruz celebration, from spring cleaning chores to helping set up the Haftseen table. Children are usually the most excited about painting and dying eggs for the Haftseen table and getting a pet goldfish, alongside coins and gifts from family and friends, much like Christmas time.
I there anything else you would like to share with us about celebrating Nowruz with your young children?
Leila shares that “Nowruz is a beautiful holiday to celebrate with young children because it is all about the wonders of nature and the new season it brings with it. Nowruz represents renewal and rebirth and having it coincide with warmer weather, and the natural world makes it feel like the entire world is celebrating with you. I think the excitement of springtime and the freshness of the season is felt by adults and little ones alike, making it a beautiful holiday to celebrate”.
Tahereh shares that “after thirteen days of celebrating, family and friends gather together in parks for large picnics with music and an abundance of chai tea. Each family brings the sabzi which is fresh grown lentils or wheat from the Haft Seen table to throw the sprouted greens into a river, essentially throwing out the old. This day, known as Sezde Bedar translates to “thirteenth outdoors” and is a day where everyone stays outdoors and enjoys nature. Nowruz, like most middle eastern holidays, is a holiday that is very family-centered and so children are very involved and present. It is a time for families to be together and welcome in the new year, enjoying each others company”.
Leila shares that “Nowruz is a beautiful holiday to celebrate because it is about celebrating nature and the wonders that the new season brings with it. It represents renewal and coincides with warmer weather, and the natural world makes it feel like the entire world is celebrating with you. I think the excitement of spring time and the freshness of the season is felt by adults and little ones alike, making it a beautiful holiday to celebrate”.
“The gentle breeze will blow anew / Vitality to the barren earth / The old will become young, again” – Hafiz, a 14th-century Persian poet on Nowruz.
When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy!
Please leave a comment below if you have any other thoughts, activities, resources and crafts to share with this circle of consciously connected families. Thank you again to those who took the time to respond.