Commentary: Persian New Year celebrates 'renewal in nature'

If you look at March 20 on a calendar you may see written there "First Day of Spring."

For some, this may signal just another mundane footnote in menology, but for Iranians, the first day of spring is synonymous with their new year. Celebrated as Nowruz, which has a literal translation of new day, the Persian New Year is a celebration with a history spanning three millennia.

"Nowruz is a celebration of life," says Ehsan Janati, an engineer from Irvine. "We celebrate the renewal of the year during the first day of spring because it is really a renewal in nature."

The symbolism associated with the first day of spring and its relevance to a new year is not happenstance. When the vernal equinox strikes, Iranian families all over the world gather around a table set with seven items that each begin with the letter "S" in Farsi, called a Haft-Sin. The Haft-Sin includes items that are symbolic to rebirth and a new beginning for the year ahead.

The items of the haft-sin include:

•Sabzeh, wheat sprouts that symbolize rebirth in nature.

•Samanu, wheat pudding symbolizing fortunes for the year ahead.

•Sib, apple symbolizing health and beauty.

•Senjed, dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love.

•Sir, garlic representing health.

•Somagh, sumac berries symbolizing the color of sunrise.

•Serkeh, vinegar, which represents age and patience.

Partly rooted in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, Nowruz is, in fact, a secular holiday celebrated by Persians of varying faiths. Nowruz is not just limited to a celebration on the first day of spring. It is really a two-week-long celebration.

The Tuesday evening before the first day of spring, Persians embark on Chaharshanbe Suri, known as the Festival of Fire. It's a purification ritual that includes jumping over bonfires to rid the soul of the evil spirits from the year before. During the two weeks of Persian New Year, families visit each other and elders give gifts of cash to the youths.

Despite Nowruz pre-dating the Achaemenids of the Persian Empire as far back as 550 B.C., Iranians have kept this ancient tradition very much alive.

IMAN SADRI is a cosmetic dentist and blogger based in Irvine.

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