Nowruz, meaning new day, is an ancient celebration on the occasion of the arrival of spring and the New Year on March 21 (or the day before or after) in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Because of its cultural heritage values, Nowruz was registered on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010 and 2016.
Having been the most important celebration among all Iranians, Nowruz bonds all Iranian ethnic groups and communities together to practice special traditions in around two weeks. According to Shahnameh (the most popular Iranian epic poem book written by Ferdowsi in 1010 CE), Nowruz was the day when Jamshid, a mythical Iranian king, sat on a throne shining like the Sun and defeated cold and dark winter demons. The ceremonies of Nowruz are also depicted on the bas-reliefs of Persepolis remained from the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE).
The Nowruz customs that start every year from around two weeks before the day of Nowruz and lasts for 13 days are divided into three parts; before Nowruz, Nowruz day, and after Nowruz. The most prevalent customs of Iranians before Nowruz include singing, house cleaning, shopping, and Charshanbe Suri.
Iranians have some musical rituals, promising the arrival of Nowruz, among which Nowruz Khani (singing for Nowruz), Takam Gardani, Hajji Firuz, and Dhol and Sorna are the most distinguished ones. Nowruz Khani is a tradition that originated from the north of Iran, in which people ask Nowruz Khan (singer) to roam around neighbors and sing poetry loudly to mark the beginning of spring.
Iranian Azeri people have also a ritual called Tekam (meaning wooden goat puppet) Gardani in which a man plays a doll while singing melodies to welcome Nowruz. Nonetheless, Hajji Firuz is the most well-known folkloric ritual in Nowruz among Iranians. Hajji Firuz is a character with a black face covered in soot and clad in bright red cloths, who dances, chants comical rhythmic verses, and plays tambourine in the streets. Another notable harbinger of Nowruz in Iran is Amu Nowruz (a character similar to Santa Claus) who gives gifts to children and tells old stories about Nowruz. Amu Nowruz is an old man with long white beards and a felted hat. What is more, the music of two ancient instruments, Dhol (a double-headed frame drum) and Sorna signals the arrival of Nowruz to Iranians.
House cleaning (Khaneh-Tekani) and shopping
Before the arrival of Nowruz and spring, all Iranians clean up their entire house- that is to say, they shake their house (Khaneh-Tekani in the local language). They, in fact, symbolically keep evils and impurity away from the house before the New Year commences. Iranians also go shopping to buy new clothes to dress them up in the New Year.
This is why some weeks before this event, people flock passionately into streets and cloth shops to browse clothes according to their allotted budget.
The last Tuesday night of the year in Iran is called Chaharshanbe Suri during which fire plays the central role. People celebrate this night by setting up fireworks and/or jumping over the flames and singing “your redness for me, my paleness for you” (fire). In this way, prior to the New Year people symbolically leave their illness for fire and instead take its power and purity.
A fading custom in Charshanbe Suri is Qashoq-zani meaning spoon-banging (similar to trick-or-treating in Halloween) which people wear disguising clothes and hit a spoon on a plate in front of every house to receive some edible treats.
Customs of the Nowruz day
On the first day of the New Year, setting Haft-sin, cooking specific foods, and visiting friends and relatives are customary among Iranians.
It is a very common tradition that Iranian families sit around Haft-sin just accurate moments before the New Year, waiting excitedly for the March equinox and the New Year. Haft-sin includes a set of seven symbolic items that their names begin with the Persian alphabetical letter س (s).
Haft-sin consists of Sabze (i.e., wheat, barley, millet, or clover sprouts grown in a dish), Samanu (a sweet pudding cooked from germinated wheat), Senjed (Persian olive), Sekeh (coin), Sib (apple), Sir (garlic), and Somaq (sumac). Besides these seven items, Haft-sin involves some other symbolic items such as a mirror, book of wisdom (i.e., Quran, Hafez Poetry Book, Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Bible, or Avesta), goldfish, painted eggs, candles, and flowers (mostly hyacinth).
After the New Year’s moment and the arrival of Nowruz, family members congratulate the occasion, hug, kiss, and express good wishes for each other. At this moment, as a gift, elder members of the family present new money bills called Eydi from inside a book of wisdom to youngsters.
Nowruz special foods
Iranians believe in eating special foods on the first day of the New Year. One of the special foods for this day is Sabzi-Polo and Fish. Sabzi-Polo is a pilaf comprised of chopped vegetables typically coriander, parsley, dill, fenugreek, and chives. Samanu as a sweet paste made of germinated wheat is another example of special food that can be found almost in every supermarket during Nowruz.
Customs after the Nowruz day
On the days after Nowruz, Iranians generally visit their family and friends, travel, and go to nature on Sizdah Be-dar, the 13th day of Nowruz.
Visiting family, relatives, and friends
The Nowruz period is the best time for Iranians to visit their families, relatives, and friends. Typically, elders stay at home on the very first days of Nowruz expecting younger generations to visit them. However, elder people will also return their homes in the following days.
Upon visiting, people kiss each other, congratulate, and wish for prosperity in the New Year. During the visit, the host gives money gifts (Eydi) to youngsters and mostly to children. Collecting Eydi in Nowruz visits is a sweet hobby for many Iranian children. Tea, mixed nuts, fruits, and cookies are among the most common snacks served in Nowruz gatherings.
Nowruz period begins by the New Year moment, lasts for 13 days and ends with Sizdah Be-dar meaning Nature’s Day. On this day, families leave their houses for nature and a picnic. Throwing Sabze (one of the items of Haft-sin) away and knotting prairie on grassy lands by single individuals are the two main Sizdah Be-dar rituals. Iranian families keep their Haft-sin Sabze during the Nowruz period but they will finally return it to nature on Sizdah Be-dar day.
It is very common in the morning of Sizdah Be-dar to see many cars with diverse dishes of Sabze wrapped with a red ribbon, inside or on their bonnet that drive slowly in typically congested traffic in the hope of finding a spot in the surrounding parks and landscapes.