Anybody who knows me or who has been following my blog long enough will know the autumn is my favorite season with its crisp breezes and cool air perfumed by the colorful falling leaves, but as a spiritual person I do understand the importance of being in touch with all the seasons. I do in fact enjoy the spring when the cold sharpness of February melts into the milder days of March and April and Earth once again becomes green. It is a season of rebirth. In ancient times, in Germanic lands, it was a time to honor the goddess Eostre or Ostara who was associated with rebirth and renewal. From the name of this ancient goddess and her festivities we get the name of Easter which is itself a celebration of resurrection and new life. By the 8th century in the British Isles, Ostara had been almost completely replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter which retained much pagan imagery related to spring and rebirth such as eggs, rabbits and flowers that are present in modern day Easter celebrations. Today Wiccans and other Pagans still celebrate the vernal (spring) equinox as Ostara which ushers in the fullness of the spring season. I have a Wiccan friend who gives chocolate eggs to her coworkers, family and friends on Ostara to symbolize rebirth and the coming warmth of spring and summer. I have blogged before about Easter and the Pagan rites of spring, but today I would like to talk about an ancient Persian observance marking the beginning of a new year which is celebrated even today in modern Iran and neighboring countries. This is the beautiful and fascinating holiday of Nowruz.
What I find most fascinating and befitting about Nowruz is that it falls exactly on the spring equinox symbolizing the beginning of the New Year when visible signs of life and fertility return to the earth as opposed to western New Year and Chinese New Year which fall during the bitter cold months of the year. It makes perfect sense that the New Year be a time of rebirth that is visible in nature. Nowruz is celebrated in Iran and surrounding central Asian countries such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The name literally means “New Day” and is an ancient holiday dating back 3000 years to ancient Persia before the Islamization of the region in the 5th century AD. The symbolism of fire, the sun and warmth returning to the Earth was very important in the ancient Zoroastrian faith, the religion of ancient Persia, and still figures into the modern celebration of Nowruz. Modern day Zoroastrians still observe Nowruz as a religion holiday, but it is mostly regarded as a secular celebration by the Shia Muslim majority of Iran. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, manly clerics moved to ban the celebration of Nowruz as they viewed it as pagan and un-Islamic, but this was met with great resistance by the vast majority of Iranians for who Nowruz is a very special celebration that connects them to their ancient culture and glorious past. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the celebration of Nowruz has spread widely across the central Asian republics that have historical and cultural ties to ancient Persia.
In Iran and many surrounding countries, Nowruz is a national public holiday when most businesses and all government offices shut down for the day of the spring equinox and schools and universities have a full two weeks of vacation which allows people to travel and spend time with family. The Nowruz festivities officially last two weeks. The celebration of the coming New Year officially gets underway on the night of Charshanbe Suri which falls on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz. This night is similar to New Year’s Eve on which there are fireworks and large bonfires over which it is customary to jump for good luck and purification. Jumping over fire is common in many spiritual observances around the world, for example in Hungary on the eve of St. John’s Night. I’m sure this is due the fact that spiritually speaking, fire is a purifying agent. On Charshanbe Suri, there exists a custom called Gasog Zani or “spoon hitting” which involves young people wearing disguises and going from door to door banging spoons on pots and dishes and begging for treats. Gasog Zani bears a striking resemblance to the western practice of trick-or-treating which I find fascinating since Halloween of course is my favorite holiday. It is customary to perform a thorough spring cleansing before Nowruz as is customary in the west before Easter and in China before Chinese New Year in order to begin the New Year with a fresh start and cleanse away any bad luck that might remain from the previous year. Many people in Iran buy new clothes before Nowruz and decorate their homes with roses, jasmine and images of fish and other symbols that are known to draw luck in order to the start the New Year on a note of prosperity and good fortune.
Before ending our discussion of Nowruz, it is necessary to discuss the Haft Seen, which is perhaps the most visible and iconic element of Nowruz celebrations. Literally meaning the “seven S’s” and haft seen is a home altar erected for the celebration of Nowruz and is thusly named as it contains seven items that all begin with the letter “Seen,” the equivalent of “S” in the Farsi language. These items are wheat sprouts, samanu pudding, dried fruits, garlic, apples, sumac and vinegar. Each of these items corresponds to certain planets and stars according to ancient Zoroastrian astrology. In addition to the indispensable items mentioned, a haft seen may also contain flowers, rose water, goldfish in a bowl, decorated eggs much in the style of Easter eggs and a copy of the Quran. The building of a haft seen in the home is believed to bring good luck, good health and prosperity in the year to come.
I hope you have enjoyed this discussion of Nowruz and the spring equinox. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I wish you a happy spring. May your life be filled with happiness and abundant blessings during this season of rebirth and always!