Norooz - Persian New Year


Author: Grace Carter
Last update: 09/05/2008

Celebrated by:

A lot of people. While it's primarily known as traditional Iranian New Year by many in the west, Norooz (alternately spelled Norouz, Noruz, Nauroz and probably a bunch of other ways as well) is also celebrated in Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenia, Tajikestan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and other parts of Central Asia, and by many different people including Zoroastrians and Bahá'í practitioners.


The vernal equinox-which falls on either March 20 or 21 of the Western calendar, but is the first day of the New Year for many citizens of the places and religions listed above, (for instance, the 19-month Bahá'í calender and the 12-month Persian calendar).

Next year will be:


Next year begins at:

Tehran: Friday: 02:17:30 PM March 20, 2009
New York: Friday 06:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Chicago: Friday 05:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Denver: Friday 04:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Los Angeles: Friday 03:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
London: Friday 10:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Paris: Friday 11:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Berlin: Friday 11:44:30 AM March 20, 2009
Athens: Friday 12:44:30 PM March 20, 2009
Moscow: Friday 01:44:30 PM March 20, 2009
Tokyo: Friday 07:44:30 PM March 20, 2009
Sydney: Friday 09:44:30 PM March 20, 2009

How to say Happy New Year:

How to say Happy New Year: really varies depending on who is doing the celebrating. For facility's sake, here's what you might say in Iran: No-Rooz Mobarak means straight-up "Happy New Year." You could also say Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak-"Happy New Year to you"-or No-Rooz Pirooz which means "Wishing you a Prosperous New Year." And with people you really like, try the emphatic well-wish Sad Saal be in Saal-ha or "Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years." Note: we hate to be morbid, but it might not be realistic to use that one on your great grandmother.


Oh boy. Our trusty team of researchers here at noo became a little overwhelmed when we started reading about the history of Norooz. To provide you with all the information would take a tome or two, so we'll just glide over the most salient bits:

Norooz is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of Zoroastrianism, which was the predominant religion of the Persian empire until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Though it wasn't yet called Norooz, the vernal equinox was celebrated by a host of ancient peoples-Assyrians, Sumerians, and Babylonians, for example-as long ago as 3000 BC. The roots of today's celebration go back to the Sassanid period, when Persians started celebrating from the last Tuesday of the year non-stop for 13 days into the new year. Despite the arrival of Islam, the tradition of Norooz stuck around, albeit in slightly altered form, and is still an Iranian holiday today.

Values and traditions:

On the days leading up to Norooz, a colorful character may be spotted singing and dancing all over town. Haji Firooz, with his black face and tomato-red suit, is the Iranian herald of the New Year. He races around, appearing at parties and on the streets, entertaining people with songs, stories, jokes and dances. He is much beloved by everyone, especially children.

Just as with Chinese New Year, Norooz begins with a solid spring-cleaning and the purchasing of new duds. On new year's eve, Iranians share a meal of Sabzi Polo Mahi (rice with fresh herbs, served with white fish) and Koukou Sabzi (fresh herbs with baked or fried eggs).

Things get hot on the final Tuesday before the year turns, as people both old and young jump over bonfires in the streets. No joke. And some of them are big bonfires too. The flames are supposed to cleanse away illnesses and misfortunes, not to mention any exposed leg hair. While they jump, they sing the song "zardieh man as to, sorkhieh to as man" meaning that they are getting rid of weaknesses as represented by color yellow, and gaining the redness, fitness to move forward. This too is an old Zorastrian tradition of holding fire as sign of life.

Norooz revelers constitute yet another group of fun-loving folks who aren't afraid to party-they do just that, for 13 days straight, starting by kissing and hugging loved ones at Saal Taahvil, the exact astronomical moment that spring begins. Norooz is a social family event. When the year shifts, the immediate family will be already be gathered at a table laden with the Haft Seen, seven items, all beginning with the letter S, that symbolize the parts of the Zoroastrian creation myth. They represent all the senses. The symbols have evolved over the years, so each house's spread is different. Today's Haft Seen might include:


(green grass)
(a sweet wheat-germ pudding)
(a dried jujube fruit)
(sumac berries)

beauty and health
age and patience
the color of sunrise

These may be arranged among other symbolic items such as painted eggs, lit candles, a mirror, a bowl of goldfish, rosewater, a holy book or a book or poems, and a bowl of water with an apple floating in it. The myth is that the apple turns at the moment spring begins. Throw in some pastries and national colors for good measure.

With spring sprung, and the table set, parents often give the younger generation gifts of coins or money, just like at Chinese New Year or Hogmanay. Gifts are handed down from old to young only, the idea being to help the young prosper.

The first few days of the new year are spent visiting relatives and friends. Don't worry if Grandma's too tired from jumping over bonfires. Senior citizens don't have to wheel out the Rascal until after all the young people have made their rounds. Typically first visits are paid to the patriarch of the family or most respected older friend. These visits are brief-30 minutes or so-as most families have a lot of them to get through in time to ready their own home for receiving guests. A family may make three or four visits in one day.

Perhaps the loveliest part of Norooz is the final day, Sizdah Bedar or "Getting rid of thirteen " when it's time to celebrate nature. Everyone heads outdoors for a grand picnic. Families play games and music, and dance. The sound of laughter swells through all the parks in Iran. Before they leave, families make their new year's resolutions by tying knots in the Sabze from the Haft Seen before throwing it away in a running stream, a symbolic act to give back to nature and make it greener as well as to purge any bad luck from the house that's been collecting in the roots.

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