What is Nowruz?

Post by Ali and Erica, Information Services Staff.

Nowruz, the Persian word for “new day”, is rooted in Zoroastrianism, the religion of Iran before the advent of Islam. It marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, March 21st. It is celebrated as the beginning of the new year by over 300 million people globally, and some participate in thirteen days of Nowruz festivities with their own local variations.   

It is not a religious holiday, but rather a universal celebration of new beginnings: wishing prosperity and welcoming the future while shedding away the past. That is why families use this time to deep clean their homes and closets, and buy new clothing.   

Who celebrates Nowruz? How is it celebrated?   

Celebrated for over 3000 years in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and other regions, Nowruz promotes peace and solidarity between family and friends, and an ongoing connection with nature. 

Nowruz is a time for family, friends and community. It includes rituals, ceremonies and cultural events, as well as the enjoyment of a special meal with loved ones. New clothes are worn, visits are made to family and friends, and gifts, especially for children, are exchanged.   

In Iran, the centerpiece of the Nowruz celebration is the Haft sin table.   

The table includes at least seven items that refer to new life and renewal, each of them beginning with the letter s (pronounced seen in Persian).   

  • Sib (apples): fertility and beauty   
  • Serkeh (wine vinegar): immortality, longevity and patience
  • Senjed (wild olives): fertility and love   
  • Sabzeh (wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts growing in a dish): rebirth   
  • Sir (garlic): protection from illness 
  • Samanu (wheat sprout pudding): sweetness   
  • Sekkeh (coins): wealth  

Other objects can also be placed on the table, such as:   

  • A mirror, to reflect the light of wisdom and creation   
  • A book of poetry by the fourteenth-century writer Hafiz or a copy of the Qur’an   
  • An orange floating in a bowl of water, to represent Earth floating in space   
  • Candles, to symbolize holy fire   
  • Decorated eggs, to represent fertility   
  • Sonbol (hyacinth): fragrance   
  • Somaq/Sumac: symbol of sunrise 

March 21 was officially recognized in 2010 as International Nowruz Day by the United Nations at the request of several countries.  

Drop by Central Library to see our display of Persian cookbooks for Nowruz. 

Happy Celebrating!