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History of Nourooz

 
   

Nourooz, Meaning 'New Day', is the traditional Iranian New Year.

Nourooz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, the same time is celebrated in Indian sub-continent as the New Year. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.

Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox. The term Nourooz in written first appeared in Persian records in the second century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c.648-330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the emperor (Shahanshah) of Persia on Nourooz.


 
   

haftsin


Haft Sin (هفت سین or the seven ‘S’ or Sin) in the Persian alphabet. The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. The Haft Sin has evolved over time, but has kept its symbolism. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a Haft Sin table as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Nouroozi visitations and is a reflection of their good taste.

''Haft Sin'' is table clothed in the main room of the house and all members of the family gather around it before the moment of the new year happens. The following items are placed on it:

  • Lighted candles : Represents the goodness and warmth of life. The number of candles is the same as members of the family and guests.
  • Holly book : It depends on the religions of the Iranian societies living in Iran at present ; Avesta  book for a Zorastrianian family,Quran for Muslim, Bible for Christian and Torah for Jewish.
  • Gold fish in a bowl of clear water : The sign of wishing health and blessing for Iranian children.
  • Mirror : Looking for truth and brightness with guidance of Ahoura Mazda (God).
  • Clock : Shows the exact moment of coming the new year.
  • Painted eggs : Marks the concept of birth and circle of life.

Haftsin is the seven stuffs which in Persian/Parsi language start with "Sin" or "S". They are placed next to each other on the table in front of candles, holly book, gold fish, mirror and clock.

  • Sabzeh/wheat or lentil sprouts : Purity and good fortune
  • Samanu/a paste made with wheat : Sweetness and fertility
  • Sib/apple : Health, beauty and fragrance
  • Sir/garlic : Medicine and health
  • Sekkeh/coin : wealth
  • Sonbol/Hyacinth : Love
  • Serkeh/vinegar : Wards of bitterness in life 

In an Iranian house during the Norooz celebration The moment of replacing old and new year is the most crucial moment in the life of the family, especially with regard to forgiving past mistakes, planning for a successful year, hugging and exchanging gifts. After starting the new year neighbours and friends visit each other and the feast goes on for a long 13 days vacation!

13 Bedar

The tradition of leaving the house on the thirteenth (Sizdah) day of Farvardin, the last day of the Nourooz period, and spending that day outside with joy, laughter and pleasure has been in practice since ancient times in Iran. This is the last phase of the celebrations of the New Year (Nourooz). This joyous celebration has its roots in the Zoroastrian belief that laughter and joy symbolize the throwing away of bad thoughts. According to Zoroastrianism, bad thoughts are the gift of Ahreeman (the devil) and his offspring and the festival of the New Year will cleanse all bad thoughts. The celebrations defeat the enemies and plant shoots of comradeship and peace. The custom of kissing each other on the cheeks also comes from a belief that it cleanses the individual.13bedar1

On the last day of the New Year celebrations, the 13th of the first month Farvardin, it is the custom of Iranians to pass as many hours as possible outdoors. All people leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a very festive picnic. It is a must to spend this day in nature and the occasion is called Sizdah-Bedar. It is generally believed that if people stay home something bad can happen.

This day was not celebrated in this manner before Islam and might be several rituals in one. It is possible that this day was devoted to the deity Tishtya (Tir), protector of rain. In the Zoroastrian calendar each day is named after a deity and this particular day in the month of Farvardin is named after Tishtrya. In the past there were outdoor festivities to pray to this Eyzad in hope of rain that was essential for agriculture. The act of throwing away the Sabzeh from Haft Seen into rivers and running waters on this day also indicates veneration for a water deity. The act symbolically represents an offering made to such a deity.

However, Anahita was the goddess protector of running waters and not Tishtrya. It appears that at least part of the celebration is to pay respect to some water deity. Tishtrya/rain or Anahita/water are likely mixed together to preserve veneration for water deities in general. In ancient mythology the deity Vata the rain-bringer was associated with Harahvati Aredvi Sura, which means possessing waters (Anahita is a later assimilation of this deity). She personified a mythical river and all rivers flow out of this one. Clouds also took up rain from the same mythical river every year. Tishtrya goes to the river once per year in the shape of a white stallion to fight the Demon of Dearth appearing in the shape of a black stallion. After Tishtrya’s victory he rushes into the sea and water is hurried all over, and Vata snatches some for the clouds. The rest of the water is mixed with seeds of plants, which sprout as the rain falls. Ancient Iranian rituals quite often enacted their mythologies, waters were respected and many rites existed with respect to waters. It is very likely that several of these were combined to preserve some aspect of the ancient celebrations venerating waters. Till the 19th century there was horse racing on this day, which very likely represented the fight between the two stallions.

Another account of Zorastrian folk stories mentiones that twelve devilish spirits sent by Ahreeman are eating away at the 12 pillars of the world all year around, and at the end of the year when the pillars are on the verge of collapse, the evil spirits come to earth to celebrate. While they are dancing with joy, during the first 12 days of Nourooz, the pillars are restored to their original state due to the people's joy, celebrations and goodwill. The bad spirits will again start eating away at the pillars on the thirteenth day of the year hoping to topple the world once again. The first twelve days of the year were therefore considered particularly significant and had the important duty of safekeeping the world and the lives of people on earth. The thirteenth day of the year was considered the beginning of the normal period of the year.
13bedar2
In Iranian stories it is stated that the world’s length of life is 12 thousand years and the number 12 is taken from the 12 months of the year. On expiry of the 12000 years, the world’s lifespan is over and the world’s population has the prime duty of fighting against Ahreeman. On the expiry of 12000 years, according to Zoroastrian folklore, the people will completely defeat the Ahreeman and with the appearance of Shoosaianet, the last face of Ahreeman will be destroyed and the war of Ahooramazda against Ahreeman will result in Ahooramazda's absolute victory. From then onward there will not exist a materialistic earth and the people will return to their permanent place in the heavenly body 'Minoo' enjoying universal happiness, peace and tranquility.

Iranians today regard this day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid the misfortunes that could befall them. This notion is contrary to the Zoroastrian doctrine where all days were regarded as sacred and were named after venerated deities. According to Muslim’s popular belief, the 13th day of the month is a day with unfortunate consequences (nahs in Islamic terminology); therefore Iranians could have combined the two. By going outdoors into the fields, the ancient festivities were observed while the Islamic ideas are also incorporated into the occasion. Muslims today still have a prayer for rain called ‘namaz e baran’, which is used at times of prolonged drought.

All kinds of food and delicacies are prepared with tea, local drinks, fruits, bread, cheese and fresh herbs, noodle soup called ‘ash-e reshteh’ and herbed rice with lamb (baqali polo and bareh) are favorites. The wealthy Iranians will spend the day in their country homes and estates, while the entire day will be spent in their gardens. The occasion is a communal one and all close relatives and friends will participate. Wheat or barley shoots (sabzeh) that are grown especially for New Year and are kept throughout the festivities are discarded in nature mainly in running waters and small rivers at the end of the day. Another tradition on the 13th, is the knotting of blades of grass by unmarried girls in the hope of finding a husband. The knotting of the grass represents the bondage of a man and a woman. The picnic ends with the setting of the sun. The occasion has no religious significance and is celebrated by all.
Also see Nourooz festival, Mehregan Festival and the Tirgan Celebration.

Char Shanbeh Soori

Last Wednesday of the Persian calender before the new year is called "Char Shanbeh Soori" or The Red Wednesday (The Festival of Fire). Halloween –the Celtic Samhain- is the similar festival in western culture.

4shanbe1In old Persian beliefs, the world is made by four major elements; Water, Wind, Sand, Fire

In their belief fire is the holliest element and the most precious gift of God to human. It gives light and warmth and knowledge to life. It is powerful and protects human and also cleans the unclean. So they made holly temples _Atash Kadeh_ and set a fire place in it for donations and praying. After Islamic ages many of the Atash Kadehs were destroyed or their central fires got off but there are still some active Atash Kadeh in Iran which have protected their fires and kept them still alive for thousand years without letting them to go off for a minute.

Char Shanbeh Soori, the favorit holiday of Iranian children is the eve of celebrating fire with lighting bonfires in public places. People leaping over the flames which means passing the old year and entering the new year , hoping to see the light through this dark unlucky night, wishing health and happiness for the coming year and shouting:

Give me your beautiful red color
And take back my sickly pallor!

4shanbe2Traditionally, it is believed that the livings were visited by the spirits of their ancestors on the last Wednesday of the year. Many people especially children, wrap themselves in shrouds like ghosts. By the light of the bonfire, they run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons called "Ghashog Zani" and make noises to beat out the last unlucky Wednesday of the year, while they knock on doors to ask for chocolates and treats.

"Fal Goush" is another ritual of Char Shanbeh Souri. Someone makes a wish and stands at the corner of an intersection , or on a terrace or behind a wall. That person will know his/her fortune when he/she overhears conversation of a passerby. It’s being done by single girls the most.hajifirooz

"Haji Firouz / Pirouz" is the black faced character who is the traditional herald of the new year ( No-Rooz ) and begins to wander the streets and alleyways in his red costume weeks before the new year. The sound of his songs (singing that spring is in the air) and the sight of his dance is amusing and funny. Although the blackness of his skin has been the source of some racial controversy in Iranian intellectual circles, his intentions and spirit have always been well received and loved by the people.

 

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