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03/12/11

The Grass is Green: Nowruz Celebrated at UDEL

By Fariba Amini

In the midst of the current cry for freedom in the Middle East, there is a tradition that has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years by the Persian speaking nations around the world. It is called Nowruz or New day.  Nowruz is originally a Zoroastrian festival, going back to the time when Zoroastrianism was the main religion in Iran and environs.

Nowruz begins with the onset of spring, on the vernal Equinox (when the sun enters the first degree of Aries), which means that it falls anywhere between March 19 and March 21.

This year, Nowruz falls on Sunday March 20th at exactly 11:20 pm.

More than 180 million people from eleven countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the Caucasus, parts of India and Pakistan, and various Kurdish regions, celebrate this festive holiday by cleaning their homes, wearing new clothes and offering sweets to one another.

What is Haftsin?

A few days prior to the day, a table is set up with several items beginning with the letter S in Persian.  Each has a meaning and a special significance. This is called Haftsin which means seven s’s, 7 being a lucky number. They include, sabzeh (sprouted grass),  seer (garlic), sonbol (hyacinth), sumagh (sumaq) , sekkeh (coin), serkeh (vinegar), senjed ( dried fruit of the Oleaster tree)and samanoo (cooked wheat germ), and seeb (apple).

Goldfish in a bowl, a mirror, a copy of the Koran (or another holy book) colored eggs, candles and Persian sweets are additional items.  Sprouted wheat represents the rebirth of nature, garlic brings health, hyacinth brings scent, coin represent wealth, fish are a metaphor for life, candles stand for light, and eggs are for fertility.

According to some legends, the coloring of Easter eggs and spring cleaning during Easter, have their origins in Persian New Year rituals.

What do people do on this day?

Families sit together around the Haftsin table and once the New Year has started, they kiss one another. The elders give crisp new money to the youngsters and for the next few days, they visit each other and bring flowers and sweets.  For thirteen days, people go on a holiday or take a break.  On the 13th day, it is a custom for everyone to leave the city and go seek out green pastures where they will celebrate Sizdah bedar, which essentially means getting the number 13-considered to be an unlucky number-out of your system.  On this day, the sprouted green grass which is now yellowed and fading is thrown into a stream.  Unmarried young women tie the grass (tying the knot) in the hope of getting married in the coming year.

UDEL professor of Middle East history and a long time specialist on Iran, Dr. Rudi Matthee says of Nowruz and its significance:  “it is celebrated by all Iranians irrespective of creed, ethnic background and political conviction and as such greatly unifies the nation and, in some ways, the wider Persianate world.”

In 2010, both the United Nations and the United States Congress recognized Nowruz as an official day of celebration for all Persian speaking people.

Nowruz Message from the President

In his message to Iranian Americans, a large community which has been influential in the U.S., and all those who celebrate Nowruz, President Obama quoted Sa’adi, one of Iran’s greatest poets, “The children of Adam are limbs of one another, having been created of one essence.”    “Even as we have differences, the Iranian government continues to have the choice to pursue a better future, and to meet its international responsibilities, while respecting the dignity and fundamental human rights of its own people,” he said, ending his message with “Aid-e-Shoma Mobarak.”  (Happy New Year)

In Delaware

At the University of Delaware, the Persian Society will sponsor an event on this occasion which will include Persian food and music. Amir Reza Haghighat, a founder of the Persian Society and an organizer of the event, says:

“I really care about our culture and I like to be an active part of it. Since we are not close to where all the Iranians usually get together, Washington. D.C. and L.A., I thought, why shouldn’t we have our own event here in Delaware?  We have been fortunate with rather scattered Iranian population in the Tri-State area and I am glad we can bring people together. Plus it is important for our local community (city of Newark, and the University) to see some positive things done about our culture despite all the negativity.”

In the spirit of spring, a new year, growing blossoms on lustrous trees and fragrance in the air, let us hope for a peaceful Middle East where people can celebrate their traditions with dignity, hope and honor.

Come and join the Persian Society of Delaware in its festivities:
Saturday, March 19th @ 5:30 PM, at the Trabant Center,  Multipurpose Room A/B/C.
You can purchase your tickets via TicketMaster

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