Norooz 101 – An Illustrated Guide to the Persian New Year

collage Norooz Persian New Year Iranian New Year by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Norooz – The Persian New Year | Collage

The Iranian New Year is called Norooz. It is pronounced as if you’re going to say “no rues” and literally means: “New Day.” Norooz starts at the precise moment when winter ends and spring begins and it is officially celebrated for two whole weeks. It’s a month away but it’ll be here before you know it. (This year: Thursday March 20th.)

Norooz is an ancient fête going back 3000 years to the beginnings of the Persian Empire, and although it has deep Zoroastrian roots, it is a secular national holiday festival that brings together Iranians of all ethnicity and religious affiliations. This unifying aspect of celebrating Norooz is chief among its myriad attractive virtues.

Here’s a pictorial introduction to the preparation and festivities involved with the arrival and greeting of Norooz. Nothing too at depth. Just the basics. Norooz 101!

Goldfish norooz illustration icon graphic persian new year by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)


Khoneh Takooni | Literally: “Shaking the House” — Spring Cleaning

Illustration for Persian New Year spring cleaning called khoneh takooni by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Shaking the house (khoneh takooni) | Illustration

Khoneh Takooni is spring cleaning on stereoids. One boldly must go where one has lazily avoided going for a year. This means washing windows, rugs, curtains, airing out the house, and scrubbing clean every conceivable item, surface, nook and cranny. It also entails making an inventory of household goods: organizing anything that needs organizing; fixing anything that needs repair; tossing out everything that is worn-out, damaged beyond use, or is simply clutter. Socks with holes? Begone. Anything messy? Organize! Necklace with a broken clasp? Fix or toss. Clutter? Donate to charity.

The idea is to greet spring and a brand new year in a state of mindful organization and purity. Combining feng shui with a purifying ritual of spring cleaning.

Daffodil flower  illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Solh va Safa | Literally: “Peace & Serenity” — Mending Relationships

Illustration for Persian New Year "solh va safa" calledand peace making by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Ashti konim baradar! | solh va saffa illustration

One of the most important parts of preparing to greet the new year is to attempt to mend any strained or troubled relationships. It is customary for family, friends and even business associates to reach out to each other around Norooz and attempt to address, remedy, and heal any tension, hurt or bad feelings. This is a time when it’s possible to persuade to reconcile those who are estranged or chagrined with each other. A happy ending is not guaranteed, but the point is to make a good faith attempt to leave all negativity behind and to start the new year with solh va safa (peace and serenity) and on as positive a note as possible.  (Correct me if I’m wrong, but this aspect of Norooz sounds similar in intent to the tradition of forgiveness of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of judaism.)

I think of it as spring cleaning the heart.

Goldfish norooz illustration icon graphic persian new year by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

No’navari Kardan | Literally: “making things new”

Hyacinths and daffodils illustration hand drawn Iranian New Year Norux custom by Fig & Quince (Persian food culture blog)

Pretty things. Sweet things. For Norooz! | Illustration

In a very similar spirit to cleaning and organizing the house – in tune with the spring and renewal theme of the fete – the idea of no ‘navari is to start filling the house with pretty new things and delightful aromas. In the weeks leading up to norooz it is customary to fill the house with sweet-smelling and cheerful flowers such as hyacinth and daffodiles, and to start making or purchasing batches of Persian sweets for Norooz.

It is also a time one may indulge in making pleasant and necessary purchases for the household. Such as refurbishing curtains or buying new pots and pants. Things like that. Which I guess may also signify abundance and positive thinking and high hopes for the year ahead.

Apple illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

 Lebass ‘eh Eid | New Head-to-toe Outfit for the Persian New Year

Collage illustration of Iranian New Year Norooz custom of wearing new spiffy garbs by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Lebasseh No! New outfit for Norooz | collage illustration

The house, household and personal relationships are not the only things getting spick and span; a pat on the back; and a new glossy lease on life.

Every member of the household also from the baby to the granny gets a new head-to-toe outfit: everything from socks to shoes and coat and even the unmentionable undies! This is called lebasseh eid (clothes for the fête) and while they may be purchased months in advance, the items are strictly reserved to be worn for the first time only for Norooz and not a day earlier.

Apple illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Did va Bazdid  | Visiting and hosting family and friends

Iranian New year Norooz nowruz customs and rituals illustration guide by Fig & Quince (Persian food culture blog)

Did va Bazdid = Visiting & being visited | Norooz Illustration

The two weeks of celebrating Norooz are spent in a dizzying round of did va bazdid (literally “visiting and returning visits”) of all of one’s extended family and friends. One also opens one’s house and in turn receives family and friends. In the Iranian culture, the elderly are treated with utmost deference and formal respect, so the protocol is that  the elders of the family sit tight and hold court and receive the younger family members who come to call on them. During these visits, best wishes and pleasantries and gifts to the children (usually crisp bills or maybe shiny gold coins) are exchanged; much sweets and tea and fruit and ajeel are consumed, chit chat takes place, and then one ups and leaves to make yet another round to another house on the list.

This is what happened when I was growing up in Iran. A new custom though I’ve heard is that people take off and run for the hills, I mean, fun holiday destinations, and dispense with this entire aspect! Whether this is good or bad, I have my personal opinion, but ultimately, change is inevitable and part of life and what is new today becomes an ancient custom in the span of the next thousand years. So that in the year 5000 it is conceivable that a blogger may wax poetic about the delightful ancient Persian custom of Iranians going on lovely family holidays for the two weeks of Norooz!

Remember the Norooz custom of purchasing a new year outfit that I mentioned earlier?  Lebass ‘eh eid is what people wear to make their did va bazdid – these ritualized rounds of visits.

Goldfish norooz illustration icon graphic persian new year by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Chaharshanbeh Suri | Often translated as Red Wednesday

Jumping over fire for the Persian New Year charshanbe sori | Norooz Illustration

Jumping over fire for the Persian New Year charshanbe sori | Norooz Illustration

On the last Wednesday (chaharshanbeh) of the year, every neighborhood makes a few dainty bonfires, lined up in a row. Kids and grownups alike line up and jump over the fire. While jumping, one is supposed to address the fire and chant: Your red for me and my yellow for you.(سرخی تو از من زردی من از تو)  Symbolism: releasing one’s yellow weakness into the burning fire and in turn soliciting robust vigor and energy from the flaming red fire! Again, this is what I recall but I’ve heard this tradition has morphed more into a rather boisterous display of neighborhood fireworks.

The zoroastrian roots of the charshanbeh suri tradition are fairly evident. As a kid, this was my one of my favorite, most exciting things about Norooz. I have not experienced it since we left because … well, because fire marshalls would be called if replicating chaharshanbeh suri here in the U.S! I’ve heard – if not seen with mine own eyes – tales of huge bonfires on the beach in Los Angeles aka Tehrangeles.

Daffodil flower  illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Haft Seen – Literally “Seven S” – the Persian New Year’s Beautiful Tableau Vivant

Haft Seen Illustration Persian New Year Norooz 7 S spread by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

This is more like 5 S than 7 S! | Norooz Haft Seen Illustration

For Norooz a table is set with 7 things the names of which start with the letter “S” in Persian. (Check this earlier post for itemized listing of what’s in a haft seen spread and their symbolic significance.) This spread is called Haft Seen — literally Seven S’s – and it is the primary symbol, icon and cornerstone of the Persian New Year, much like the Christmas tree and the menorah are symbols, respectively, of Christmas and Hannukah.

I like to call Haft Seen the Persian New Year’s “still life tableau” because when all is said and done and all the 7 “S” sounding items and the other traditional items are gathered, what you have is a charming little spread that pleases the eyes and delights the soul. I LOVE everything about haft seen! From coloring eggs, to making sabzeh by sprouting seeds, to the goldfish swimming in a bowl, to the glint of gold of the coins, to the delicious sweets on the table. I will admit, however; that while I like looking at hyacinths, I find their smell overbearing. They are certainly pretty to look at though.

In every household, it is around the Haft Seen spread that the family gathers waiting for winter to end and to celebrate the moment spring begins with hugs and kisses; exchange of best wishes, and the gifting of presents to the younger members of household; and eating sweets to ensure having a sweet year ahead. And it is around the haft seen as well that everyone gathers when visitors, paying their did va bazdid, arrive to offer their best wishes and respects.

It is a beautiful tradition!

Apple illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

Sizdah Behdar | Or “Begone 13!” – A picnic marking the end of Norooz

13 bedar sizdah bedar Haft Seen Illustration Persian New Year Norooz 7 S spread by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

sizdah bedar | The sabzeh sprout is tossed away on the last day of Norooz

And finally, on the 13th day of Norooz, all good things must come to an end.

This day is called sizdah behdar and literally means “getting away from 13”, with the number 13 having the same “bad luck” rep in the Persian culture as it suffers from in the West. On this day, one is supposed to go on a picnic, somewhere scenic, ideally near a river or stream. There, one is supposed to eat and play and have fun and make merry and at some point to take the sabzeh that one spent weeks coddling and coaxing into  sprouting for Norooz and take it and throw it away, ideally in a body of water.

The act of dispensing with the green sprout in this manner is supposed to symbolize ridding oneself of all bad omens and bad vibes. There is also a quaint custom that a young girl wishing to marry may tie and make knots with the blades of grass, while making a chant to be married by next year’s sizdah bedar!

Daffodil flower  illustration icon graphic by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

The 14th day of the new year:  it’s back to normal life.  The holiday is over. Bummer! Two weeks isn’t enough?  Let me tell you, when I was a kid, two weeks was NOT enough. Not at all.

Enough, however, of a post that was meant to be a quickie and turned into a longie! I warn you that I’ll be sprinkling a lot of Norooz cheer in the coming weeks.

Spring Still Life with Norooz Haft Seen Elements (toot, sabzeh, goldfish) & blossom

Spring Still Life with Norooz Haft Seen Elements & blossom

Have a beautiful and happy weekend! Think: spring!

.

.Goldfish norooz illustration icon graphic persian new year by Fig & Quince (Iranian food culture blog)

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74 thoughts on “Norooz 101 – An Illustrated Guide to the Persian New Year

      • it was one from the Norooz of two years ago. they sadly don’t live very long! 😦 New clothes were something everyone perked up over!

  1. And the traditional greeting I always try, in my fumbling way, to greet folk on their festival days.

    Last Eid al Adha our local Afghan shopkeeper closed and put up a sign: “Closed for stocktaking” I’m hoping on this new year he might word his sign “Closed for Norooz”

  2. GREAT POST- and just in time for new year – you’ve still got lots of time to really go where no woman has gone before and clean out those nano-dust-motes and specks on the windows (and buy your goldfish :))
    Happy new year soon!

  3. This is fantastic Azita, really explains Norooz perfectly. It’s such a wonderful and sacred tradition. You are right about Yom Kippur, atonement, forgiveness just like Norooz. Really well done, I always learn so much and really enjoy your posts.

  4. You covered every aspect of Naw-Ruz, and wrote it so well. I love the relating artwork illustrations. It must have taken so much time to put them together. I have the same sentiments about celebrating Naw-Ruz the traditional way. Well done, Azita jan!

      • sibil d985db8ce2808cdaafd987:d985d985d986d988d986 d8a7d8b2 d8b4d985d8a7 d8a8d8b1d8a7db8c d8aad8b1d8acd985d987 d8a8d987 d8b7d8a7d987d8a7 d8a8d8b0d8b1db8c: d8aed988d8a8 d8a7d98ad986 d8a7d988d984d98ad986 d8b3d8a6d988d8a7d984db8c d8a8d988d8af daa9d987 d8a8d8b1d8a7db8c d985d986 d9bed98ad8b4 d8a2d985d8af d8a7d98ad986 d8aad8add982d98ad982 d8aed98ad984db8c d985d8b4daa9d984 d8afd8a7d8b1d987 d988 d985d986 d8a7d984d8a7d986 d988d982d8aa d8a7d98ad986 d8b1d988 d986d8afd8a7d8b1d985 daa9d987 d8afd8b1 d985d988d8b1d8afd8b4 d8a8d986d988d98ad8b3d985 d8a7d985d8a7 d8a7daafd8b1 d8aed98ad984db8c d8afd984d8aad988d986 d985db8c d8aed988d8a7d8af d8a8d8afd988d986d98ad986 d8aed988d8afd8b4d988d986 d8aad988d8b6d98ad8ad d8afd8a7d8afd986 daa9d987 d987d981d8aa d986d981d8b1 d8a7d98ad8b1d988d986db8c d8a8d8b1d8a7d8b4d988d986 daa9d8a7d8b1 d985db8c daa9d8b1d8afd986 daa9d987 d8a8d987 d8afd984d98ad984 d8add8b3d8a7d8b3d98ad8aa d987d8a7db8c d8b3d98ad8a7d8b3db8c d985d988d8b6d988d8b9 (d98ad8b9d986db8c d8add8b3d98ad986 d8afd8b1d8aed8b4d8a7d986 d988 d8a7d981d8b4d8a7daafd8b1db8c d987d8a7d8b4) d986d985db8c d8aed988d8a7d986 daa9d987 d8b4d986d8a7d8aed8aad987 d8b4d986 d988 d8a7d8b3d985d8b4d988d986 da86d8a7d9be d986d8b4d8afd987:A group of seven Persian speakers read and coded more than 600blogs over a peirod of approximately five months. Of these, 500 (that were partof the final map) were included in the analysis. Researchers had at least generalprofessional proficiency (self-assessed) in Persian, and in most cases native-levellanguage fluency. Researchers remained anonymous due to the sensitivity ofstudying Iran and Iranian blogs. To supplement our understanding we sat onseveral occasions with researchers and read blogs together, as well as analyzedpopular outlinks such as news sources, portals, and other websites.

  5. Beautiful!! We used to celebrate too, since it was all so pretty! I remember once my mom had learnt gol chini (i’m sure you know it!) just so she could make a gol chini hycinth!! Also the sweets! Yum!!

  6. My favorite post so far! As someone who is marrying into a Persian family, without a lot of knowledge about the culture, this post was extremely helpful! I can’t wait for your next few posts!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Your comment is one that makes the working on posts like these incredibly worthwhile. I’m very happy to hear it was helpful! My nosey part wants to know if you’ll incorporate any Persian wedding traditions in your upcoming wedding? (Which congrats btw.) Perhaps consider sharing a pic or two from your “sofreh aghd” if you end up having one at your wedding. 🙂

  7. Thank you Azita, what a great post about Norooz, I was used to all the traditions and yet you taught me some new things I haven’t known. I have always loved the Persian tradition of welcoming the New Year. You Persians really know how to celebrate….. A few days ago, I cut some jasmine flowers and my house is filled with this almost seducing fragrance… oh so my mother in law would snug some little flowers in her braw…. yes, I always liked that and did this as well… and I still do it, hehe.
    Eide shomah mobarakh……… to you and your family!

  8. Dear Azita, in our local Interfaith Dialogue committee I had been trying very hard to explain about Naw Ruz and how important it is to a very wide swath of humanity. They didn’t get it. I forwarded this post last week and every member read it and loved and appreciated it. Thank you so much.

  9. I think I could be Persian! 😉 I love your Norooz traditions. I think I can totally fit in except maybe for the heart cleaning. I’m not good at it! Not because I do not forgive … I don’t think forgiveness is really up to us. It’s God’s prerogative. Everyone makes mistakes and friends and family members should be there no matter what. However, if the relationship has been damaged somehow I feel uncomfortable and I’d rather move on “forcing” myself not to think about it…

    • Francesca, I read this comment the other day on the phone when had barely woken up and it made me chuckle and giggle and in general it was just a delight and a pleasure to read. You are wonderful! 🙂 I think I do understand what you mean but … I wanted to share something here but ended up deleting b/c perhaps too personal via a public forum.

      xoxo
      ps for Sophie’s sake hope she doesn’t cross the line! 😉

  10. This is so cool. So very educational in the best kind of way… you’re always able to make history sound so interesting Azita! Love the pictures of the Norooz tradition. Each part is so significant. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us xx

  11. I hope you don’t mind if I celebrate this with you this year, based on no tradition. I need the push too clean a lot of things in my life right now, and I love the idea of ending it with a picnic 🙂

  12. This brought back so many happy memories of my 10 years in Iran…..I loved chaharshamber….and of course Ba Ba nowruze who would come door to door……I loved your posts …made my day…..many thanks…..😃

    • I’m so absolutely delighted to read this! thank you for reading and for visiting and commenting! :))

      ps You remind me that I neglected both the mention of amoo Norooz and haji Firoz! ha ha

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  15. Thank you for such a nice post on Nooroz. I am not Persian by origin ( I am from India) but I have studied with students from Iran and am simply mesmerized by your ancient culture. So much so that now I can speak Persian and can understand as well. I cook Persian delicacies at home and love the healthy lifestyle you people follow.

    • Thank you Nida jan, I really appreciate this and it makes me very happy to hear about your partiality to Persian culture and cuisine. If you ever want to share the recipe of any of the Persian delicacies you make at home, please just drop me a line. I’d love to share that on the blog.

      Thank you for visiting and for your lovely comment.

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  17. Khahesh Mikonam Azita joonam..Yes sure, I will soon share one of the recipes which I learnt from my Persian friends during my Master’s study- my favorite being Ghormeh Sabzi and Ash-e-Reshteh. lotf dari..Merci kheili ziad

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    • Darya jan, a little someone I knew also refused to taste it but a grownup someone who was a skeptic ended up loving it! Couldn’t get enough of it, ha ha. But yeah, more for you if they don’t like it! Please do let me know how it goes and what you think of it. I’d be very interested! xo

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