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Haft SinWith 2013 now two months old, our New Year celebrations and most likely all those well-intentioned resolutions, are already long forgotten. For Persians however, they still have their New Year, or Nowruz (literally New Day) to look forward to and celebrate in March. Using the Iranian calendar this will be year 1392.

Nowruz is not an Islamic festival or celebration, rather it has roots in Zoroastrianism and primarily celebrates the Spring Equinox, the first day of Spring; the arrival of new life and rebirth as nature responds to the longer, warmer days and brings a welcome sense of new beginnings, celebrating the light (the good) winning over the darkness (the bad)

Preparations in Iran are already well underway for Nowruz in a just a few weeks with families spring-cleaning their house, “Khouneh Tekouni” (“shaking the house”) buying new clothes and filling rooms with traditional Spring flowers such as hyacinths and tulips.

An ancient Persian tradition which I follow every year is that of setting the Haft-Sin tableau in readiness for the celebrations. Translated literally, Haft-Sin means “Seven S’s” and most the items used in a Persian Nowruz display begin with the letter “S”, symbolising the important values celebrated at this time. Examples of Haft-Sin include;

Sonbol (hyacinths)- the coming of spring

Sir (garlic)- medicine, cleanliness  & health

Sabzeh (green shoots)-new life and growth

Serkeh (vinegar)- old age and patience

Sib (apple)-beauty and health

Sekkeh (coins)- prosperity

Somaq (a dried spice)- colour of sunrise

Senjed (dried oleaster fruit)-love

Sekanjabin, a sweet mint syrup-just for good measure!

The display is usually set against the backdrop of a mirror symbolizing the sky, truth and reflection and illuminated by lit candles representing enlightenment and happiness. A goldfish is often included in the tableau representing life and the constellation of Pisces which the sun is leaving. This is particularly symbolic for me as I am a Pisces and feel that as we enter March and then into Spring I too am starting a new year. Sadly, there will be no goldfish this year. After three years of patient stalking, our cat Tom finally caught the fish he had been waiting patiently by the pond for and as yet, we have no replacement. In good Persian tradition however, perhaps we should celebrate the New Year with new life and buy another one.

After all the preparations, New Year celebrations in Iran begin on March 20th and last for 12 days. During this period the focus is very much on visiting family, friends and neighbours, throwing large parties (and believe me, Iranians know how to party) and on the 13th day, there is a mass exodus from homes with families enjoying picnics outdoors, taking advantage of the increasingly balmy evenings.

Visiting family takes on a whole new meaning to me when in Iran. The concept of the “extended family” really comes into its own here with numerous relations living in and around the small town of Sede where we are based. It would take us more than a day visit everyone if the visits were much more than 30 minutes at each house, so short and sharp is the key to a successful Nowruz visiting campaign. Tea (Chai) is served constantly together with sweets, pastries, nuts and fruit and everyone has well-stocked cupboards in preparation for the influx of visitors.

For Nowruz here in England and “in concert” with my Iranian family, I have hyacinths in bud and will soon need to sow my cress seeds and mung beans ready to grow the “sabzeh” (green shoots). Everything else is ready to put together as my Haft-Sin tableau for 1392. Feri and I will be celebrating Nowruz with our Iranian friends and we are looking forward to our upcoming visit to Iran “next year”.

In the meantime we both wish you all…..

“Nowruz Mubarak”…….”Happy New Year”

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