Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Year in Iran

All Iranians, whatever their religious beliefs, language or origins and wherever they live, are strongly attached to Now Rouz, meaning New Year.

This festival, which does not feature in the Islamic lunar calendar, begins the solar year at the spring equinox, 21 March. Lasting around two weeks, it is the longest of all Iranian feasts and its rites are the richest in symbolism. The ceremonial includes customs from pre-Islamic festivals and rites introduced by people of non-Iranian origin, such as the Jews, and even borrowings from rites practised elsewhere.

This post is being lifted verbatim from Iran Press Service.
The country is far more complex than the average American thinks.

Two weeks before Now Rouz, each household traditionally grows a plate of sprouts of wheat, barley or lentils as omens of a good harvest or as tokens of fruitfulness in the future.

This significant ritual is followed by two important celebrations which mark the closing days of the year and prepare for Now Rouz proper. At nightfall on "Ember Wednesday", or chahar shambeh souri, meaning the Wednesday festivities, a bonfire of brambles and other dry plants is lit. Men and women, old and young leap over the flames shouting "Fire that burns! Fire! Fire! May your red come to me and my yellow go to you!" The light of the flames symbolizes the Sun. By challenging the setting Sun to shine more brightly and to compete with the fire, they urge it to throw off its winter torpor.

Once the fire has gone out, earthenware pots and vases filled with water, and a variety of other objects, are hurled from the top of the house to shouts of "dard-o bala! dard-o bala!" ("Pain and unhappiness!"). Wednesday being traditionally considered as a day of ill-omen, in this way misfortune is averted and unhappiness symbolically banished from the house.

On the same day, people try to foresee the future. The omens are read in various ways. Women who want a child, girls who have not yet found a husband, men who are hoping to conclude a successful business deal or even to get married, go out into the streets or stay behind closed doors eavesdropping on conversations between people they do not know. They interpret the words they overhear as omens of the future and make wishes and pray to try to ward off misfortune. Another custom is for women and children in disguise, their faces hidden, to go out into the streets at twilight carrying an empty receptacle and bang on doors with a spoon. They say nothing but go on knocking until someone opens a door and gives them a present. [Sounds like Halloween.]

The second end-of-year celebration, the "Day of Reckoning" (rouz-e barat) is the Iranian day of the dead. On the last Thursday of the year alms and gifts are distributed at the cemetery: money, food, halva or new clothes are given so that the poor can celebrate the feast. The house is cleaned from top to bottom-this is a vestige of a pre-Islamic festival. In this way the living seek to pay their debts to the departed and attract the benevolence of their ancestors.

The "spring cleaning" (khaneh takani), done before New Year, is more than just a cleaning operation. From cellar to attic, from carpets to bedding, everything must be made as good as new. A new life is dawning and the house must be symbolically purified and thoroughly cleansed as if it were a human body, by being carefully washed and by wearing new clothes. [I have read about this on a couple of Iraqi blogs.]

For the New Year ceremonial, the plate of sprouting grain and the tray of “haft sin”, meaning seven sins, --from the Iranian letter “S”-- must be placed on the Now Rouz cloth in front of a mirror lit by as many candles as there are members of the household, a copy of the Qor'an, the Muslim’s holly book, a bowl of milk, a bowl of yoghurt, and gifts of coins.

The tray of the "seven sin" contains seven products whose names in Persian, Turkish or Arabic begin with the letter sin, the initial letter of the Persian words for green (sabz) and white (sefid), colours which symbolize respectively the renewal of springtime and the purity that wards off demons. Today the tradition has changed: everyone can choose seven symbols representing renewal, creation, abundance and wealth. The number 7 is a sacred number, as it was for the Babylonians and the ancient Hebrews, linked to the idea of creation which runs through all the symbolism of Now Rouz.

While they are waiting for the New Year to begin, the parents and other older people pray that the year will be propitious and recite the Qor'an to bring blessings and happiness to the family. Immediately afterwards, sweetmeats are eaten. Their taste presages a happy year.

That is only about half the post. It continues for thirteen days.

Copyright 1990 UNESCOCopyright 2004 Gale Group
Editor’s note: Besides Iranians, all Kurds and peoples in Central Asia, including Afghanistan, do also celebrate No Rouz very much like the Iranians.

Mr. Zarrinkoub is an Iranian Historian and specialist in oriental literature. A professor of History at the University of Tehran, he is the author of more than thirty books, the last one being a study on the Persian poet Hafez.

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