Nowruz – Persian New Year

Today is March 20th, my sister Lisa’s birthday. It is Nowruz, the start of the Persian New Year, and the first day of Spring. We tend to experience life on three levels, the personal, the communal and the universal. So I remember my sister on what would have been her 57th Birthday. With our Persian friends and neighbors, we celebrate Nowruz, and in half the world, spring arrives.

Nowruz “new day” is a Persian, pre-Islamic holiday rooted in the Zoroastrian faith. One prepares for the holiday with a traditional spring-cleaning. It is a time to gather with friends and family. In Persian homes symbolic dishes are placed on the haft-seen table. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen for the letter “S.” The table is set with the seven S items which include Sumac (crushed spice of berries) to symbolize sunrise and the spice of life, Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree) for love and affection, Serkeh (vinegar) for patience and age, Seeb (apples) for health and beauty, Sir (garlic) for good health, Samanu (wheat pudding) for fertility and the sweetness of life, andSabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) for rebirth and renewal of nature.

There are other symbolic items that go on the haft-seen table depending on family traditions. It is customary to place a mirror on the table to symbolize reflection on the past year, a bowl of goldfish for new life, colored eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, hyacinths to symbolize spring, and candles to radiate light and happiness. Each family places other significant items on the table, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, or a book of poetry by the poet Hafez. The celebration ends on the 13th day spent picnicking with family and friends in nature.

This ancient holiday encompasses so many traditions present in other religious and cultural holidays this time of year. Celebrating the beginning of Spring may be among the oldest seasonal holidays in human culture. So we each celebrate according to our traditions, but we all celebrate. In that spirit, I offer my version of Mastva Khiar, a most refreshing spring salad.