The word Norooz meaning New Day, is the most anticipated and favorite celebration for Iranians. It occurs exactly on the Spring Equinox. This occasion has been renowned in one form or another by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumerians, 3000 BC, Babylonians, the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia and Akaddians in the second millennium BC, all celebrated this festival. What we celebrate today as Norooz (Also spelled Now Ruz, Norooz or Norouz) has been around for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrians of the Sassanian period.
The concepts of Hell, Heaven, Resurrection, the coming of the Messiah, individual and last judgment are the foundation for the Zoroastrian belief system and still exist in Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. In their ancient text, ‘Bundahishn’ foundation of creation, it is said that The Lord of Wisdom (Ahura Mazda) residing in the eternal light was not God. He created all that was good and became God. The Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), residing in the eternal darkness created all that was evil and became the Hostile Spirit. Everything that produced life, protected and enriched it was regarded as good. This included all forces of nature beneficial to humans. Earth, waters, sky, animals, plants, justice, honesty, peace, health, beauty, joy and happiness were regarded as belonging to the good forces. All that threatened life and created disorder belonged to the hostile spirits.
The next creation was the material world, created at seven different stages. The first creation was the sky, and the second was the first ocean. Earth, a big flat dish sitting on the ocean, was the third. The next three creations were the first plant, the first animal a bull and the first human Gayo-maretan (Kiomarth, both male and female). The seventh creation was fire together with the sun.
To protect his creations the Lord of Wisdom created six holy immortals known as ‘Amesha Spenta’. The first three were male deities. Khashtra (Sharivar), the protector of sky; Asha-Vahishta (Ordibehesht) and Vahu Manah (Bahman) protected fire and animals. The other three were female deities: Haurvatat (Khordad) to protect water, Spenta Armaiti (Esfand) protector of mother earth and Ameratat (Amoordad) for plant life. Ahura Mazda became the protector of humans and the holy fire. The six immortals are the names of six of the months in the current Iranian calendar. To begin the cycle life, the plant produced seeds; the bull produced all animals and from the human came the first male and female. The rest of the humanity was created from their union. This was called the first No Ruz, meaning new day and the beginning of the cycle of life. It starts at the beginning of spring and the seven creations are remembered and embraced through the Iranian New Year spread called Sofreh Haft Sin. Norooz is celebrated for 13 days after the mark of spring equinox.
The Sal Tahvil or the Sa’at-e Tahvil is New Year’s Eve, which is the official time for the Spring Equinox. Every year the equinox occurs at a different point in time, so the date, although accurately measured (to the date and time) is different each year, but close to March 20th.
Sa’at- tahvil is an important moment, as it is a time for forgiving each other, putting away petty differences and looking forward to building more constructive relationships. The countdown is often followed carefully on the radio or television, as the family gathers around the haft sin, in their new clothes, carefully watching the egg or preparing to take a picture of the Sal Tahvil. Legend says that there is a bullfish in the ocean of time carrying the world on one of its horns. When the Sal-e Tahvil arrives, the bullfish tosses the world over to the other horn, resulting in a tremor that will dislodge the egg and send it rolling to the side of the mirror.
As the countdown ushers in the new year, everyone rejoices, kiss each other, exchanging Norooz greetings such as “Eid-i shoma mobarak!”or “Sal-e No Mobarak!” which means Happy New Year. Gifts, usually money called Eidi, placed inside the Koran are exchanged, given by older members to the younger members of the family. Members of the family then celebrate by singing, eating, drinking and taking pictures.
It is also believed that the next visitor to the home will set the tone for luck in the new year, so generally the family will send out the youngest or most innocent member of the family to go outside with some sweets and knock on the door, come in and pretend to be a visitor. After the family has celebrated, the next 13 days are spent visiting the families.
The old Haji, named Firuz or Firooz, is the troubadour who ushers in the new year with his song, dance and merriment. Haji Firooz symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. Wearing an elaborate red costume which is a cross between a court jester, santa claus and perhaps a venician at carnival, the herald uses his tambourine and enlists a few fellow comedians to make the world laugh. Traditionally, Haji Firooz wears black make up and this is thought to have come from ancient times when the entertainment was provided by black slaves who, with their rather ‘strange accents’ for the Persians brought laughter to the people. Today’s modern Haji Firooz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading joy for Norooz. He often appears at gatherings and entertains by singing, dancing, telling stories and also a few good jokes. Children and adults all love Haji Firooz who, if you are lucky, will tell a few good tales like that of Amoo Norooz (Amoo Norouz) and other old Persian tales. Amoo Norooz, a distant relative of Haji Firooz is responsible for giving gifts to the children much like Santa Claus. He makes their wishes come true and ensures that they are happy and healthy for many years to come.
The Sofreh Haft Sin (Haft Seen) is the spread, which the family gathers around to celebrate the New Year. It is the focal point of the celebration and ensuing visits and as such Iranians take great care and pride in putting together a lavish and elaborate spread to signify all that they want in the new year. The word Haft means seven and Sin stands for the “S” in the alphabet. Sofreh means spread, the floor of which is usually a nice rich material or embroidered fabric. The spread contains the seven specific things that start with “s”. The sofreh is prepared a day or two before Norooz and placed either on the floor or on the table for about two weeks after Norooz. In addition to the seven items, you may place additional items on the sofreh that will signify renewal, happiness, wealth, good health or any thing that you desire for the New Year. You will find additional items that start with S and other items that represent life in our list. Remember that this celebration is one of hope, promise and good fortune, so have fun with it and share the joy with all your friends and family.