I originally intended to post this article three months ago. Then, I started working at Nordstrom during the day and hostessing at night, so my free time was spent eating, sleeping, and watching TV shows that didn’t require my brain to follow along. The hostessing gig didn’t last long though (I am not made to deal with annoying people who act like they own the restaurant because they’ve eaten there twice), so now I have a smidge more free time to work on blogging. Finally, yesterday I just sat down and demanded that I churn this one out. Not only do I enjoy blogging and want to keep up with it despite my hectic schedule, I am also keen on any post that allows me to share some of my Persian culture with others.
Norooz, the Persian New Year, is a celebration that falls on the first day of spring. Because Farsi isn’t a language that lends itself to our alphabet easily, I see all kinds of spellings for this holiday, but I tend to stick with Norooz. It’s the easiest for Americans to understand, and if a name like ‘Jaleh’ has taught me anything, it’s to simplify for my countrymen.
As a young brat, I unwillingly participated in Farsi school and all that came with it. Sure, I loved scarfing down Oreos at snack time and getting my kabob on during the summer, but I was already enough of an outsider due to the fact that I had a The Brady Bunch CD and thought I was Sailor Moon. I didn’t need to heap my Iranian heritage on top of that.
However, until I was about eight, my parents were all about me participating in Persian things. We went to big parties where tea was passed around like a drug, I played dress up with other girls destined to start waxing their eyebrows early in life, and we ate rice and bread with everything. Despite how much I didn’t want the popular blonde girls and pretty blue-eyed boys to know about my life outside of school, I did begrudgingly enjoy myself at all of these gatherings, and none were bigger than the yearly party that preceded Norooz, an event still taking place at a park fifteen minutes away from my house.
Once, in a shiny fire-red outfit, I read a poem about the sonbol (hyacinth), a flower which epitomizes the life that comes with the new year. Though the sonbol is on our Haft Seen (the table one sets up for Norooz), it is not one of the main fixtures. Each of the essential seven items begins with an ‘S,’ as Haft Seen literally translates to “seven ‘S’s,” and they all represent something different. Sumac embodies the color of a sunrise; serkeh (vinegar) symbolizes age and patience; senjed (lotus tree fruit) is there for love; samanu (sweet paste) represents affluence; sabzi (greens/sprouts) illustrates the idea of rebirth; seeb (apple) symbolizes health and beauty; and seer (garlic) has medicinal connotations.
Other popular items for the table are sekkeh (coins), goldfish, dyed eggs, candles, and the Koran. I really have no idea why any of these end up on the display, but I’m guessing the coins have something to do with wealth or prosperity and the Koran is there for the religious Iranians out there. Your guess is as good as mine for the other ones.
Like I mentioned earlier though, the Haft Seen is just one element, the celebration at the nearby park is the real fun part. Technically, this event is called Chaharshambe Suri, and takes place the last Wednesday before Norooz. Still, the two events are interconnected, with Chaharshambe Suri meant to purify one before the new year. I haven’t attended in years, but I used to pile my plate with basmati rice, dance with my hands the way only Persians can, and jump over the fire representing going forward and leaving the bad behind. From singing the Iranian National Anthem to falling asleep in the back of my dad’s car on the way home, it was a production from beginning to end.
Though my family’s celebration of Norooz is much more subdued nowadays, it still sticks to the traditions I learned. This time of celebration is all about beginning the new year with positivity and can be enjoyed by anyone, Persian or not. When it’s all over, the sabzi is thrown outside back into nature, the table is disassembled, and everyone waits for this holiday to come around again to be enjoyed. Kinda like Christmas, only for tan people.