Persian New Year

Someone recently asked about Persian New Year (Noh Ruz) celebrations. And although this is not strictly within the guidelines of the [Med dance mailing] list, I have done more Middle Eastern dancing at Persian New Year parties than most other places so I hope this is [relevant]. Anyway, I wrote a short piece about Noh Ruz over the weekend; here it is.

Philip Walker
Agent, manager, husband and fan of Medea Mahdavi, Persian Dancer.

Persian New Year

In Iran, New Year, the vernal equinox (21 March) is the most important festival. It is a Zoroastrian (pre-Islamic) celebration.

Zoroastrianism became the state religion under the Sassanian Dynasty. There are still around 30,000 Zoroastrians living in Iran, mostly around Isfahan, Yazd and Kerman. In Iran today, Zoroastrians are tolerated by the Islamic Government but they do not have the same status as Muslims.

Noh Ruz is celebrated by most Persians, although at the height of Islamic fundamentalism (immediately after the Revolution) the authorities tried to suppress it.

Small bonfires are lit in the streets on the last Wednesday of the old year (chaharshambeh suri) and people jump over the flames to bring luck for the following year. The Noh Ruz celebrations last for 13 days and are a time for family and close friends.

On New Year's day, Persians wear new clothes and presents of new clothes and money are given to children. A display of symbolic items is made in people's homes, which was called 'haft shin' (seven 'Sh's); when the festival was taken over by Islam it was changed to 'haft sin' (seven S's).

The seven S's displayed include seer (garlic), seeb (apple), serkeh (vinegar), samanu (a type of sweet made from wheat shoots), sombol (hyacinth), sekeh (a gold coin) somagh (sumac). The centre piece is sabsi, a plate of sprouting green herbs (cress, wheat or lentils can be used). Other items on the table include a Koran, a mirror, a goldfish in a bowl, coloured hard-boiled eggs and a candle.

The original Zoroastrian version included sharab (wine) shir (milk), shilooneh (jujube) shirini (sweets) sharbat (sherbet) and shaam (candles), sabsi and the Avesta (the holy book). The traditional food eaten for New Year is sabzi pollo (rice with herbs - literally, green rice) and mahi (fish) or morgh (fish).

Ash reshfte, a delicious thick, warming soup made with pulses and noodles is also often served. Reshte, (noodle) literally means threads and they are still commonly made at home rather than bought.

On the thirteenth day after New Year called sizdah bedar families leave their homes to go on a picnic. The picnic spot should preferably be near a stream and the sabsi from the haft sin is thrown into the stream for good luck. Persian picnics are a wonder to behold, people come really well equipped with lots of mouth watering cooked dishes including rice and hot ash. Carpets are spread out and men relax in their comfortable shalvar kurdi (kurdish trousers) while the women prepare the feast and in the days before the revolution, girls would dance round the picnic.

For Persians living outside Iran, Noh Ruz is still the most important festival and it is celebrated in a big way. Large parties are held in hotels with live music and dancing as well as more intimate family gatherings.

I have always thought that the Persian tradition of celebrating New Year at the start of Spring to be much more sensible than 1 January which is really the middle of Winter (in Europe).

Copyright Philip Walker March 1996

When Is Noh Ruz?

Persian New Year (Noh Ruz) is celebrated on the vernal equionox which usually falls on 21 March. This year [1997] the precise time is on 20 March. In the old days, cannons used to be fired to announce the exact time.

For people who want to be precise, here is the information on the Persian New Year from the Payvand Web Site [for 1997 as an example:]

New Year 1376 begins on Thursday Esfand 30, 1375 (March 20, 1997)

The times are (depending on where you are):

Greenwich Mean time 1:54:46 PM
Iran 5:24:46 PM
Eastern North America 8:54:46 AM
Central North America 7:54:46 AM
Mountain North America 6:54:46 AM
Pacific North America 5:54:46 AM
London 1:54:46 PM

Medea Mahdavi and Philip Walker wish everyone on the list an early HAPPY NEW YEAR and hope you have fun dancing.

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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