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Norouz always makes me smile, ever since I was a child!

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Norouz always makes me smile, ever since I was a child. In those days we would be taken shopping for new clothes and new shoes. We would be so excited for weeks or months before. At school, every day from the middle of Bahman (early February), we would write on the blackboard how many days were left to the New Year. We looked forward to our 'aydies,' the New Year presents - normally cash gifts that we would get from aunts and uncles, our parents' friends and specially the grandparents.

Source: Foundation for Research on the History of Children's Literature in I ran

Those were happy times, when we still enjoyed the innocence of childhood and the pleasure of little things. Getting a new pair of shoes, a new cardigan or dress would keep us content for weeks. There might even be an ice cream bonanza at Laddan, the confectionary store, or a matinee show at Cinema Fleur, both of them near where we lived. If we were really lucky, there would be the promise of a visit to our favorite aunt and playing with our cousins. How I long for those easy days.

These days, my only pleasure for Norouz is that Tehran will be less crowded with cars and therefore less polluted and consequently we can breathe a little better, while looking at the magic of Damavand which becomes visible for a short time during the holidays. This pleasure is mainly due to less haze from pollution and the spring breeze that touches our faces and softens our souls, and makes us hope for better times, when families can all be together again. Now everybody is so busy catching up and staying alive in the rat-races that they have fallen into and can not leave for the sake of their 'career,' 'pension,' 'children's bread and butter.' In a sense we have all become slaves to and for our lives.

Still Norouz with its lovely name and its reason for being - the most appropriate time change in all calendars, at least in the northern Hemisphere - is the sign of change of seasons and beginning of a new year, new hopes and new resolutions. No wonder some Iranians are doing their best to make it sacred through the UN's heritage foundation. While Norouz has lost its magic for many of our children, for many of us from older generation it still represents hope, tranquility and peace. It is the time of the year when we see our most distant relatives, and the family elders. This makes one realize that the 'family' is larger that one had thought and more cosmopolitan and diverse. The only other time you may see these distant relatives is at a big wedding or a funeral. You see them and you see yourself through them. Sometimes it is good news and sometimes not so.

I only visit the great aunts and uncles and a few special older friends that I am very fond of, but not the cousins and those who are called the younger generation. Some of the elders would even let us know the day when they would sit in (in other words, stay at home so they could be visited by others with their New Year greetings). I always laugh when they ask me what day I would be Sitting-in! I reply that I'm too young for that. Although I must admit as I grow older it becomes a little more difficult to stick to this excuse. But still I have not budged.

When I look back to many Norouzes in my adult life, a few stand out. The first one when I was away from all the family in a small town in England was as painful as it was exciting, since it meant that I was old enough to be on my own and be responsible for myself and my own affairs. I tried to tell those very nice English people, with whom I was staying at the time, the meaning of Norouz and described the hafet seen and its seven symbols of things starting with S (in Persian). For sabzeh, or greenery, I just cut off some green grass from their garden, and I had to borrow a small lovely fish from their pond, as we were almost living on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. But they were very nice and polite and even tried my sabzi polow (rice with chopped greens and fish - traditionally served on the new year eve) which I had made for the first time with some smoked fish.

When I returned home and started to work, Norouz was one of the rare occasions that we had a long break, and as I was young I went traveling to many of those places that I wanted to see. Later on when I grow older and a little wiser and became fond of staying with my loved ones, as they were growing even older, I could not do so, since as part of my official business responsibilities I had to attend international exhibitions one of which always fell a day or so before Norouz. I always wished that these would be cancelled or something. Only once, in all those years, the office decided not to attend. I was simply thrilled, since it meant that I could stay at home!

I always went to my mother's, for tahvil-e saal (the time when year changes and the old year turns into the new one - same as beginning of spring), since my dear grandmother stayed with them, unless tahvil-e saal was in middle of the night. But whenever I was in Tehran for the tahvil-e saal like million of Iranians, on the first day of the year we would have the traditional sabzi polow va mahi either for lunch or for dinner, depending on the time the year changed. When tahvil-e saal would pass, we would kiss each other and my grandmother would always give us something to keep for the year, which meant a lot to me. The first year when she was not there to give me anything was very painful. We all tried to be cheerful for the sake of the young ones, but God it hurt. I still miss her like a fresh breath.

Another Norouz I remember is the one during the bombing of Tehran. We had sent the young and the old to the Caspian to be sure of their safety, but we stayed in Tehran because of our jobs. We strongly believed that we would never all leave, because the enemy would win psychologically. At that time, the year would change at around 9:00 a.m. Since my job involved overseas duties, we had to work the day before, and I also had to visit some older friends and relatives before tahvil-e saal and get them some cakes, nuts and fruits for the New Year. We started off from Tehran before 4:00 a.m. and thankfully we were up North with the family before saal tahvil. It was so good to be with them again after almost two weeks and to spend the New Year in the safety of the Caspian and its beautiful shores and green forests.

These days the spirit of Norouz comes much later and is less exhilarating than it used to be. People start growing their greens later, but then we can buy some nice ones from many flower shops along with small red fishes for the family haft seen. They started this year too from the middle of Esfand (last month of the year). Some famous confectionary shops take orders for Norouz shirini (pastries) from late February. Should you drop by to pick something up nearer the Norouz time, there is really nothing left, since all their production goes towards customers orders, according to the dates when they are to be picked up! A very serious business, say Harrods of London, would be jealous. So we go to the less well known shops and buy a few boxes of shirini to save ourselves a lot of embarrassment for not having shirini for Norouz, just in case some friends would drop by unexpectedly!

This year, duties take me away and I shall not be in Tehran to spend the ayd and saal tahvil with my family and enjoy its beauty, despite the ugly buildings and the silly high-rises that have ruined the view and are a thorn in our vision of the beautiful mountains that surround this city. Those who stay will be able to breathe clean air for a few days and as for me I have to wait for such pleasure until another year. wish you all a very happy and wonderful Norouz.

Ayed shoma hameghi kheili kheili mobarak!

... Payvand News - 3/18/03 ... --

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