by Susan Leem, associate producer
Modernity meets history. A Kurdish girl in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq wears traditional clothes while peeking out from a sunroof. (photo: Ahmed Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
On this first day of spring, Persian families around the world are greeting each other with “Sal-e No Mobarak!” and “Happy New Year!” in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, a day of beginnings. Translated as “new day,” the solar-based holiday marks the first day of the first year of the Bahá’í calendar and the falls on the vernal equinox.
The holiday has wider cultural and national significance for modern Iranians who often celebrate with family and friends by sharing meals together, cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, and performing contemporary expressions of ancient customs. Rooted in Zoroastrianism (the prophet Zoroaster himself is credited with creating this festival) in pre-Islamic Persia, Nowruz is also celebrated in surrounding geographic regions influenced by the Persian empire in the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
A man jumps over a bonfire as Kurds gather to celebrate the start Nowruz in Ankara, Turkey. (photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)
Chahar Zanbe Suri is a prelude to Nowruz with a fire-jumping tradition. It occurs on the last Wednesday of the year before Nowruz. Iranian-American Semira Mirzaie describes it:
“Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, ‘zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man,’ the special song means ‘my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.’ Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire.”
Iranians shop for Nowruz at a market in Tehran. (photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
The tradition haft-seen table is an important part of Nowruz celebrations. Iranians prepare these settings in their homes by gathering seven items that start with the letter “s,” which have positive meanings: the spice sumac for sunrise, seeb (apples) for beauty, and sir (garlic) for health, among others.
Haft-seen: a traditional table setting of Nowruz, present in many homes. (photo: Jean-Philippe Daigle/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
Goldfish also make an appearance on the haft-seen table. They are symbols of new life and the end of the astral year associated with the zodiac sign Pisces. They are sold in markets along with other Nowruz accoutrements.
Goldfish for sale in preparation for Nowruz. (photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
An artist sings during Nowruz in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (photo: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images)
A man on a swing in Kabul, Afghanistan where the festival of Nowruz is celebrated annually. (photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images)
Sabzeh is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature. On the thirteenth day of the celebration, it is customary to throw these sprouts away into running water, as the sabzeh is thought to collect negativity and illness in the household while it grew there. This purging represents purification and new beginnings.
Photo by: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images