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Celebrating spring and the beginning of a new year: Persian style!

“Nowruz Mubarak” to all our Iranian friends! (or Happy Persian New Year!) For everyone who does not know this holiday, let us introduce you to this family spring celebration!

A Special Holiday

On March 20th (the first day of spring), people in Iran and other Western and Central Asian countries celebrated the start of the Persian New Year or Nowruz (alternatively spelled Noo-rooz or Norooz). 

Of all national holidays in Iran, this one is the most colourful and the most important. Nowruz is a seasonal celebration of rebirth, the victory of the sun and the return of spring, that has its roots in the ancient religion of Zoroastrism.

What makes Nowruz special as a spring celebration is that it endured for more than 3000 years in Iran! Several conquests, the coming of Islam, Mongol invaders, new national borders, different religieus groups, even the Iranian Revolution; nothing has stopped the Persian and Turkic people from celebrating Nowruz for millennia. It is a symbol of the continuity of the ancient Persian culture despite hardships and changes brought by the passing of time.

Nowruz customs and traditions

Haji Piruz. NINARA/CC BY-SA 2.0

Nowruz is a real family holiday: family members come together a couple of days before the new year and start ‘shaking up the house’ or cleaning everything in the house. Most people follow the custom of buying new clothing to start the new year with. 

Not only worldly freshness is important, but your spiritual cleanliness too. People will jump over fire pits on Red Wednesday reciting verses for purification: “Give me your healthy red colour and take back my sickly yellow parlour”, asking the fire to take their sickness and fatigue (yellow) and replace it with warmth and energy (red).

The Iranians have included their own Santa Claus for the celebrations: Uncle Nowruz and his sidekick Haji Piruz herald the coming of spring. Uncle Nowruz is often an older man, wearing a white beard and handing out presents to children. His sidekick has a painted black face and sings joyous songs playing a tambourine to the entertainment of all.

After the first day, people are expected to visit all family members, friends and neighbours. Because this can take a long time, most visits are typically short and every house has large supplies of pastries, tea, and fresh and dried fruits to serve the guests. 

On the 13th day, a special pot with greenery, called Sabzeh, will be thrown away to throw away all back luck the sprouts have collected from the family. Everyone will go outside on this day and spend a nice family day in a park or outdoors, having picnics and parties, to ward of bad luck and chaos associated with the number thirteen, thus signalling an end to all celebrations.

Traditional Table Setting

haft seen table

One of the most important traditions is the preparation of the Haft Seen table in the family home. This table will be decked with seven items that symbolise spring and represent what people wish for in the new year. Traditionally, the names of these items all start with the letter “Seen” of the Persian alphabet. Nowadays, they are: 

- Sabzeh: a pot with green lentil sprouts, specially grown for Nowruz, for rebirth, 

- Samanu: a sweet pudding made of wheat for abundance, 

- Serkeh: vinegar for patience and wisdom, 

- Seer: garlic for health, 

- Senjed: dried lotus fruit for love, for it is said that the fragrance of a lotus tree in bloom makes people fall head over heels in love and oblivious to all else, 

- Seeb: apples for beauty, 

- Somaq: sumac berries which represent the colour of dawn, because Nowruz literally means ‘new day’ in Farsi. 

Because it is a spring festivity, most people will add spring flowers to the table. Tulips and hyacinths are seen as very auspicious additions to the Haft Seen table. (Add your own spring flowers to your home with one of our pots!)

Other items that can be placed on the table are a bowl of gold fish, golden coins, rose water, mirrors, candles and decorated eggs. And of course, the table itself can be clad in some beautiful new linnen.

Most household will also place a poetry book of the famous Persian poet Hafez on the table. If there is something essentially Persian, it is enjoying reading or reciting Hafez poetry!

Food and Drink

Food and drink play a very important role during Nowruz. Several ingredients and main dishes are indispensable for the celebration and many women will bake and cook for days in preparation. 

Enormous amounts of fresh and dried green herbs, always a staple in the amazing Persian cuisine, takes center place at the Nowruz dinner table, symbolising rebirth and spring. Fish and eggs will be found in main dishes: fish symbolises life, while eggs indicate fertility. Some people will make wishes over a special soup containing noodles. Noodles represent issues and personal difficulties; by eating them, you untangle your problems. Seven kinds of sweets are baked and given to visitors, remembering the Persian hero Jamshid discovering sugar during Nowruz thousands of years ago!

Remember that good food does bring people together!


In a time when the world is so interconnected, but still has to overcome so many difficulties and conflicts, it is nice to have a holiday that supersedes religion and national identities and focuses instead on the happiness of family and community!

So Happy Persian New Year to all!

  • March 30, 2017
  • Margret Ressang

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