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Nowrūz (Persian: نوروز, IPA: [nouˈɾuːz], meaning “[The] New Day”) is the name of the Iranian/Persian New Year in Iranian calendars and the corresponding traditional celebrations. Nowruz is also widely referred to as the “Persian New Year”.
Nowruz is celebrated and observed by Iranian peoples and the related cultural continent and has spread in many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans.
Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, it is also celebrated in parts of the South Asian sub-continent as the new year. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.
Originally being a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all, Nowruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, although there is no clear date of origin. Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox. Nowruz is also a holy day for Sufis, Ismailis,Alawites, Alevis, Babis and adherents of the Bahá’í Faith.
The term Nowruz in writing first appeared in Persian records in the 2nd century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of theAchaemenids c. 548–330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the Emperor, also called King of Kings (Shahanshah), of Persia on Nowruz. The significance of Nowruz in the Achaemenid empire was such that the great Persian king Cambyses II‘s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimized only after his participation in the New Year festival (Nowruz).
The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognized the International Day of Nowruz, describing it a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2009 in Abu Dhabi, Nowrūz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Haft-Seen (Persian: هفتسین) or the seven ‘S’s is a traditional table setting of Nowruz, the traditional Iranian spring celebration. The haft seen table includes seven items all starting with the letter seen (س) in the Persian alphabet. Haft-Seen was originally called Haftchin (Haftĉin) derived from the words Chin (چین), meaning “to place” and Haft (هفت), the number 7. The Haft Chin table includes the following items which symbolize Zoroastrian yazatas or divinities such as ātar and asmān.
- Mirror - symbolizing Sky
- Apple - symbolizing Earth
- Candles - symbolizing Fire
- Golab - rose water symbolizing Water
- Sabzeh - wheat, or barley sprouts symbolizing Plants
- Goldfish - symbolizing Animals
- Painted Eggs - symbolizing Humans and Fertility
The term and therefore the original custom was changed due to the digraph Ch (چ) not being present in the Arabic language leading to its replacement by the letter S (س). The invasion of Sassanid Persia by the Umayyad Caliphate in 650 brought acculturation and cultural transformation to the local Persians. This subsequently forced the local population to adapt and replace many Zoroastrian customs and words with Arabic and Islamic concepts. “Zoroastrianism was replaced by Islam as the religion of the rulers of Iran” The Arabic language was heavily enforced upon the conquered from the local Persians and other Iranian speaking populations throughout Greater Iran and the surrounding areas. The Arab conquests dramatically changed the Middle East and North Africa in respect to language, culture, and religion. The digraph Ch (چ) is not present in the Arabic language leading to its replacement by the letter S (س) in the word Sin. The Arabic assimilation of the Persians and other Iranian groups continued under the Abbasid Empire until the revival of the Persian language and culture by the Samanid Empire in 819 although the term and custom of Haft Chin had evolved into Haft Sin after nearly two centuries of Arab rule.
The Haft Seen items are:
- Sabzeh - (Persian: سبزه)
wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts
growing in a dish
- Samanu - (Persian: سمنو)
sweet pudding made from wheat germ
- Senjed - (Persian: سنجد) dried oleaster fruit
- Sir - (Persian: سیر) garlic
- Sib - (Persian: سیب) apples
symbolising beauty and health
- Somāq - (Persian: سماق) sumac fruit
symbolising (the color of) sunrise
- Serkeh - (Persian: سرکه) vinegar
symbolising old-age and patience