The Iranian New Year festival No-Rooz :History of the Iranian Traditions and Celebrations of No-Rooz

The New day/year of the Iranian Peoples
Norooz  also called Noruz,Nevruz, Nowruz, Newruz, Navruz, in Persian it means "New [-year]-day".  It is the beginning of the year for the peoples of Iran (Greater Iran, including: Afghanistan, Arran (nowadays the Republic of Azerbaijan) and Central Asian Republics. 
It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called "Saal Tahvil". No-Rooz with its' uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian (This was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.).


Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the new year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the "Haft Seen" with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter "S"; this was not the order in ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice). Zoroastrians today do not have the seven "S"s but they have the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their sprouting into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.

Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. Most of the people used to place Qoran on their Sofreh (spread) in order to bless the New Year. But some people found another alternative to Qoran and replaced it by the Divan-e Hafez (poetry book of Hefez), and during "Saal Tahvil" reading some verses from it was popular. Nowadays, a great number of Iranians are placing Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings) of Ferdowsi on their spread as an Iranian national book. They believe that Shahnameh has more Iranian identity values and spirits, and is much suitable for this ancient celebration.
After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins), usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and "Aajil" (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.

The 13th day of the new year is called "Sizdah Bedar" and spent mostly outdoors. People will leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a festive picnic. It is a must to spend Sizdah Bedar in nature. This is called Sizdah Bedar and is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after "Sizdah Bedar". Iranians regard 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.
History of
Norooz (Noruz, Nowruz, Nevruz, Newruz, Navruz) in Persian means "New [-year]-day".  It is the beginning of the year for the peoples of Iran (Greater Iran, including: Afghanistan, Arran (nowadays the Republic of Azerbaijan) and Central Asian Republics. 

Turkey too has decided to declare Norooz a holiday.  It is also celebrated as the New Year by the people of the Iranian stock, particularly the Kurds a, in the neighboring countries of Georgia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
History of NowRooz Persian New Year
It begins precisely with the beginning of spring on vernal equinox, on or about March 21. Tradition takes Norooz as far back as 15,000 years--before the last ice age.  King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history.  Seasons played a vital part then.  Everything depended on the four seasons.  After a sever winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion with mother nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young.  It was the dawn of abundance.  Jamshid is said to be the person who introduced Norooz celebrations.

Avestan and later scriptures show that Zarathushtra improved, as early as 1725 BCE., the old Indo-Iranian calendar. The prevailing calendar was luni-solar.  The lunar year is of 354 days.  An intercalation of one month after every thirty months kept the calendar almost in line with the seasons. Zarathushtra, the Founder of the Good Religion, himself an astronomer, founded an observatory and he reformed the calendar by introducing an eleven-day intercalary period to make it into a luni-solar year of 365 days, 5 hours and a fraction. Later the year was made solely a solar year with each month of thirty days.  An intercalation of five days was, and a further addition of one day every four years, was introduced to make the year 365 days, 5 hours, and a fraction. Still later, the calendar was further corrected to be a purely solar year of 365 days 5 hr 48 min 45.5 sec.  The year began precisely with the vernal equinox every time and therefore, there was no particular need of adding one day every four years and there was no need of a leap year. This was [and still is] the best and most correct calendar produced that far.
Some 12 centuries later, in 487 B.C.E., Darius the Great of the Achaemenian dynasty celebrated the Norooz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran. A recent research shows that it was a very special occasion.  On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 06-30 a.m., an event which repeats itself once every 1400-1 years.  It also happened to coincide with the Babylonian and Jewish new years.  It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient peoples. The Persepolis was the place, the Achaemenian king received, on Norooz, his peoples from all over the vast empire.  The walls of the great royal palace depict the scenes of the celebrations.

We know the Iranian under the Parthian dynasty celebrated the occasion but we do not know the details.  It should have, more or less, followed the Achaemenian pattern.  During the Sasanian time, preparations began at least 25 days before Norooz.  Twelve pillars of mud-bricks, each dedicated to one month of the year, were erected in the royal court.  Various vegetable seeds--wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others--were sown on top of the pillars.  They grew into luxurious greens by the New Year Day.  The great king held his public audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet him.  Government officials followed next.  Each person offered a gift and received a present.  The audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession. Then on the sixth day, called the Greater Norooz, the king held his special audience.  He received members of the Royal family and courtiers.  Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes.  The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close.  The occasion was celebrated, on a lower level, by all peoples throughout the empire.Since then, the peoples of the Iranian culture, whether Zartoshtis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’is, or others, have celebrated Norooz precisely at the time of vernal equinox, the first day of the first month, on about March 21.

Today, the ceremony has been simplified.  Every house gets a thorough cleaning almost a month before. Wheat, barley, lentils, and other vegetables seeds are soaked to grow on china plates and round earthenware vessels some ten days in advance, so that the sprouts are three to four inches in height by Norooz. A table is laid. It has a copy of the sacred book (the Gathas for Zarathushtrians), picture of Zarathushtra (again for Zarathushtrians), a mirror, candles, incense burner, bowl of water with live gold fish, the plates and vessels with green sprouts, flowers, fruits, coins, bread, sugar cone, various grains, fresh vegetables, colorfully painted boiled eggs like the “Easter eggs,” and above all, seven articles with their names beginning in Persian with the letter s or sh. The usual things with s are vinegar, sumac, garlic, samanu (consistency of germinating wheat), apple, senjed (sorb?), and herbs. Those with sh include wine, sugar, syrup, honey, candy, milk, and rice-pudding. Here in North America, these may be substituted with English words that would alliterate, rhyme, or make mouths water. The seven articles are prominently exhibited in small bowls or plates on the table. The whole table, beautifully laid, symbolizes the Message and the Messenger, light, reflection, warmth, life, love, joy, production, prosperity, and nature. It is, in fact, a very elaborate thanksgiving table for all the good beautifully bestowed by God.
 
Family members, all dressed in their best, sit around the table and eagerly await the announcement of the exact time of vernal equinox over radio or television. The head of the family recites the Norooz prayers, and after the time is announced, each member kisses the other and wishes a Happy Norooz. Elders give gifts to younger members. Next the rounds of visits to neighbors, relatives, and friends begin. Each visit is reciprocated. Zarathushtra’s Birthday and Norooz festival are celebrated by Zartoshtis at social centers on about 6 Farvardin (26 March). Singing and dancing is, more or less for the first, a daily routine.  The festivity continues for 12 days, and on the 13th morning, the mass picnic to countryside begins. It is called sizdeh-be-dar, meaning “thirteen-in-the-outdoors.” Cities and villages turn into ghost towns with almost all the inhabitants gone to enjoy the day in woods and mountains along stream and riversides. People sing, dance, and make merry. Girls of marriageable age tie wild grass tops into knots and make a wish that the following Norooz may find them married and carrying their bonny babies.