Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Persian New Year عید شما مبارک

Street Crossing in Tajrish Tehran, Iran

A New Country a New Adventure

It's been almost a year since I last wrote in this blog. I was in a different country starting out on a new adventure. I will never forget my three months in Tokyo and I hope to return, if only for a visit, sometime in the future. However, now I have been living in a new and very different country for a little over five months. Iran is so different from my home country, Mexico. But at the same time it has more similarities than I would have guessed. It is definitely a country worth exploring.

I want to start this blog anew because I feel I have a lot to say and share. I have many different interests and I don't want to limit myself to just writing about one. And ultimately I just want to enjoy writing. This is why I'm re-starting my blogging activity. 

Every Wednesday I will write a post on Iran, its culture, language, people and/or quirks. I plan to write more than once a week of course. But Wednesdays in particular will be dedicated to this insanely interesting country and this week is all about Nowruz

نوروز (Nowruz) 

Iranian Haft Siin Table. Picture by mohammadali on Flickr
The Iranians follow a different calendar from many other countries. While the majority of the world goes by the Christian calendar that marks the beginning of the new year on the first of January, Iranians go by a solar calendar. They have their own months that will overlap with the months that we are more familiar with and the beginning of the new year for them is also the beginning of spring.

March 20th or in some cases March 21st is also the 30th of Esfand. This year, today at 2:00pm Iranian time, marked officially the beginning of spring and thus officially the start of the new year for many Iranians and others who celebrate this holiday.

The official holiday of Nowruz lasts for about a week. Almost everything will be closed for the next couple of days here in Tehran, and this normally bustling and very busy city will become calm and quiet. With no traffic! Or so we have been told.

Iranians take this time to travel and/or visit friends and family. And thus goes the tradition that if someone comes to visit you during one of the days of Nowruz, you are to return the favor by visiting them before Nowruz is over. It is of course the polite thing to do and looked down upon if you don't have a very good reason for not returning a visit. "I just saw you," is not a good enough excuse.

While many businesses and shops are closed for only a week, others for maybe two, students in Iran get the better deal. Schools, including universities close for a little over a month. Think of it as a mini summer vacation.

The Haft Siin

Another tradition that is quite interesting is the preparation of the Haft Siin (seven S's). This is a table setting that is typical for Nowruz and should include, as its name implies 7 things that start with the letter S(س). Lentil sprouts, samanu (a type of Iranian pudding), garlic, apples, vinegar, sumac berries and senjed (a type of dried fruit).

Each of the seven symbolize something that is important to posses or remember for the new year. Medicine (garlic), beauty and health (apples), patience (vinegar), rebirth (lentil sprouts), affluence (samanu), love (senjed), and the sunrise (sumac berries).

However, the Haft Siin is not limited to only these seven objects. Iranians tend to add other objects not necessarily beginning with an S, that also have their own symbolism for the new year. A mirror for reflection and spirituality; colored eggs for fertility; coins for wealth; the Koran for their religion; and more. But my personal favorite is a bowl of clear water with at least two goldfish.

These goldfish, we have been told, symbolize life or as wikipedia puts it "life within life." And about a month before Nowrouz, tanks of goldfish can be seen in every corner store of the city. They are a wonderful touch. Their color and movement brings something special to the traditional table setting for this holiday. And from now on I feel that if I ever see a Haft Siin without the fish, it would be like seeing a Christmas tree without the very important star or angel at the top of the tree.


Disclaimer: I am not Iranian. I am not Muslim. I am a Mexican currently living in Iran, teaching English and Spanish while studying some Persian for good measure. I am not an expert on the people or the language. What I write in these posts are my views, opinions and experiences.  I might be wrong about the meanings of certain traditions or symbolisms- maybe I misunderstood a friend or a student who tried to explain something to me. If so I will correct myself as soon as the mistake is brought to my attention. Otherwise I hope you enjoy some information on a very interesting country through my eyes.

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