The start of Spring is a time of celebration for all of us Northern Hemisphere-dwellers—no more cold weather, soups for dinner or bulky winter clothes. Hooray! But more importantly, for more than 300 million people around the world, March 20 marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Gregorian calendar. For Persians, Iranians, Uzbekistanis and diaspora communities around the world, Nowruz is a time to banish bad luck, rid one’s life of misfortunes and welcome prosperity, good fortune and health in the year ahead.
Nowruz, which translates to “New Day,” is a holiday that celebrates the arrival of spring and the first day of the year in Iran and other Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, where the solar calendar begins with the vernal equinox. In Western astrology, it also correlates to the start of Aries season and the beginning of the new zodiac year, so a great time for a fresh start all around.
In the lead-up to Nowruz celebrations, mandatory activities are recommended as preparation to ring in the new year, from jumping over a bonfire to banging doors with spoons to “scare away” bad luck. Many of these traditions are very similar to those centered around Chinese New Year, which I personally participate in annually. That said, I am fascinated by the haft-seen table (haft-sin in some countries), a ceremonial table filled with delicious foods and decorated with items to bring good luck, like apple (seeb) to represent beauty, vinegar (serkeh) to represent patience and garlic (seer) to represent good health.
With more than 13 days of festivities to bring prosperity and good fortune to the year ahead, Nowruz is a wonderful opportunity to welcome a little extra luck into our lives. From buying new clothes and eating lucky foods to visiting friends and renewing close bonds, the Spring Equinox promises to be a special holiday for diaspora communities in the U.S. and all others who choose to celebrate.
For an inside look, I have asked my friends who look forward to Nowruz to share their best memories, plus advice advice on how to celebrate this special holiday correctly.
Chef at Sofreh in NYC, born in Isfahan, Iran
“Persian New Year—as we call it, Nowruz (New Day)—is the biggest holiday I celebrate. To me and many Persians or Farsi-speaking people all over the region, it means so much more than a new year celebration. It means keeping tradition and our identity alive.
There are many rituals we engage in about three to four weeks prior to Nowruz. We start spring cleaning the entire house and most homes start growing special seeds so they sprout and become green. We call this sabze. Many homes start baking special Nowruz cookies and on New Year’s Day, we create a beautiful spread of many items that all start with the letter S in Farsi, including sumac, vinegar, apple and gold coins, as well as candles and mirrors, which have their own special meanings.
We gather around the table and wait for the new year to come while our elders read a poem or prayer. All the items above are symbols for good luck, prosperity and getting rid of bad luck or sickness. One dish we always have is a fish and herbed rice dish(the fish represents good luck and the herbs good health) called sabzi polow mahi.”
Tour Guide in Tashkent and Samarkand, Uzbekistan
“For me personally, Navruz (spelling in Uzbekistan) means memories of joyful celebrations during my childhood, when we crafted special kites, cooked Sumalak (a porridge made from sprouted wheat) and Khalisa overnight with singing and dancing, while my aunt baked fresh Bechak pies.
No surprise, there are a lot of things that you can eat for the first time during the spring. But Navruz has its own “menu” of special treats. The most iconic is Sumalak—a jam-like sweet paste made by cooking wheat sprouts all night long by women, singing songs and expressing only good feelings. Sumalak it is healthy, organic, makes you strong and we also believe that it cleans the body from all waste.
My fondest memory of Navruz is related to times when I foraged wild greens on the hills of Aman Kutan mountains together with my cousins, who lived in the village there. There are different fresh, edible plants that appear in March, but one was especially aromatic and memorable called Pudina (a type of mint, I guess). My aunt used them to bake different things in the tandyr (tandoor) oven – Ko’s somsa (small puff pastry triangle pies), Ko’k bechak (with filo pastry) or fried dumplings Ko’k chuchvara.
In general, we believe that one can make an inmost wish each time he or she eats something for the first time during the year.”
Currently in Bali, from Iran (Kurdish/Damavandi roots from Tehran)
“To me, Nowruz is what connects me to home. Every year I do the full celebration alone (no matter where I am in the world) and it makes me feel just like I am at home with my dear ones.
I start the new year remembering my heritage, self-reflect and reconnect with what matters to me. My fondest memory of Spring Equinox is having my grandma around with her lavish haft-seen table, singing famous songs to celebrate and announce the New Year. She would open her book and give me my Eidi (money given by elders to the kids at the table after New Year) and then I would play Khoroos Jangi (a game with colored boiled eggs, where you try to break the other one’s egg and then you win theirs; it’s super fun!) with my dad—the king of Khoroos Jangi!
We would also wear new clothes (looking fresh and clean for a new start to the year) and visit relatives for 15 days—it is a magical time. I miss it so much.”