This post has been updated for 2017. This year the Seattle-Isfahan Sister Cities Association is holding a Nowruz celebration on the afternoon of March 19th. Details here.
Growing up as an Iranian-American, Nowruz, the Iranian/Persian New Year, is one of the most important times of the year.
I’ve never visited Iran to experience the holiday, but my memories of it here are very vivid. Every year is a special time to spend with family and friends and eat extremely delicious food.
Coinciding with the Spring Equinox, in 2017 the date falls on March 20th at 3:28 a.m. on the west coast of the U.S., and marks the first day of the Iranian calendar.
Nowruz (literally translated as “new day” in Farsi) is celebrated by over 75 million people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in lands that once belonged to the Persian Empire. Locally,
Although we are far from the festivities in Iran, family and friends tell stories of hundreds of people gathered in the streets to jump over fire, exchange delicious food with strangers and sing songs to bring in the new year and hopes of a better year to follow.
Here are a few expert tips to get you celebrating Nowruz like a pro.
1. Take a crash course on Zoroastrianism
Nowruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroastar, the leader of the religion and ancient philosophy of Zoroastrianism.
It emphasizes the broad concept and differences of “good” and “evil.” Believers should be connected to nature and animals, and always respect the element of fire.
2. Meet the Persian Santa Claus
Haji Firouz, who is known as the “Santa Claus” of this holiday, has been referred to as the Zoroastrian fire keeper, as his face and hands are painted black to represent soot from the fire.
He wears a red cloak and a red felt hat, sings songs on new year and gives gifts to all the children and people who are celebrating. He plays his loud tambourine and sings traditional songs, bringing joyfulness to the Nowruz celebration.
3. Learn the new year greeting, “No-Rooz Mobarak!”
During this time of year, Iranians prepare for the occasion by cleaning their homes, getting ready for guests to come over and share the traditional meal of “sabzi-polo-mahi,” salmon and spinach rice.
Hosts greet their guests by kissing one another on the cheek in gratitude and give the new year greeting, “No-Rooz Mobarak!”
4. Jump over fire!
On the last Wednesday of the year, Iranians celebrate Chahārshanbe Suri. People gather together in the streets and alleys to make bonfires and jump over them while singing the traditional songs.
Jumping over the fire is believed to be burning out all of your fear in your subconscious and spirit, in order to enter the new year brand new.
Traditionally on this night, many children also wrap themselves in cloaks, going door to door and banging spoons on pots and pans, asking for treats from the neighbors.
It is believed that the louder the children bang their spoons, the more they are beating out the last unlucky Wednesday of the New Year.
5. Know how to set your table
Iranians traditionally gather around a “Haft-Seen” (translated as Seven-S’s), which is the traditional table setting to bring in the new year and the new beginnings of spring.
It consists of seven items that in Farsi begin with the letter “S.”
- Sabzeh (lentil sprouts that grow in a dish, symbolizing rebirth)
- Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat, symbolizing affluence)
- Senjed (dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love)
- Seer (garlic, symbolizing medicine)
- Seeb (apple, symbolizing health and beauty)
- Somaq (sumac berries, symbolizing the color of the sunrise)
- Serkeh (vinegar, symbolzing age and patience)
Also on the “Haft-Seen,” many people decorate eggs for good luck and fertility. There may also be a goldfish in a bowl to represent new beginnings and a mirror, to always look at your reflection.
6. Pick a book to complete your table
For most Iranians, it is also customary to place a religious book such as the Quran or the Torah on their Haft-Seen’s. For secular more households, copies of Rumi or Hafez (ancient Iranian poets) are customary.
More recently, some Iranians have been placing the “Shahnameh: The Epic of Persian Kings” at their Haft-Seen. This classic book was written over a thousand years ago by the great poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi, with over 50,000 verses of Persian history, mythological stories and heroic kings.
Originally, the book was written strictly in Farsi, in order to keep the stories and its language as pure as possible, and rarely translated to other languages.
In 2013, Ahmad Sadri’s version of the “Shahnameh” came to surface along with beautiful images by Hamid Rahmanian. Together they created an English translation of this epic book, creating more opportunities for non-Iranians to learn about Iranian history and culture.
7. Eat at a Persian restaurant
Iranians are extremely welcoming to others and love sharing cultural experiences. This is a great time of year to check out some Persian restaurants in the area.
There are plenty to choose from, including Pacific Market in Lake City, which includes groceries and food, Persepolis Grill in the University District, Caspian in Bellevue, and Farvahar Persian Café in Downtown Seattle.
Read my full guide to Persian eating here. With a number of options for all different taste buds, I assure you, there is something for everyone!
8. Lastly, enjoy this epic new year song