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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CELEBRATING SPRING EQUINOX, THE PERSIAN NO-ROOZ NEW YEAR


For Persians, the first day of Spring, March 21, is the celebration of No-rooz  (Nowruz) "A New Day".  This day is the Equinox when the sun is observed directly over the equator and sunlight is divided evenly between the north and south hemispheres. This is the first day of the year in the Iranian calendar. It began as a Zoroastrian holiday and has significance for modern Iranians, but it's also celebrated in parts of South Asia as well. No-rooz is believed to have been started by Zoroaster himself, although there is no date of origin.
Symbol of Zoroaster

It is also a holy day for Sufis, Ishmalis and adherents of the Baha'i faith. The Jewish feast of Purim is probably adopted from the Persian New Year. It was celebrated as far back as the Achaemednids dynasty (598-330 BC) when Kings from different nations came to bring gifts to the King of Kings (Shahanshah) of Persia. Following the Iranian Revolution, the Islamic regime of Iran tried to suppress No-rooz. The Ayatollahs considered it to be a pagan holiday. During the reign of the Taliban it was also banned in Afghanistan.

No-rooz starts with the cleansing of houses and purchase of new clothes, but the major part of the rituals are setting up the "haft Seen" with seven specific items starting with "S". These are Seeb (apple) Sabze (green grass) Serke ( vinegar) or instead Somagh, an Iranian spice, Samanoo (a meal of wheat) Senjed ( a special berry) Sekke (coin) and Seer (garlic). These all have symbolic meanings.



At the No-rooz celebration I attended on Sunday, there were many tables set up with  traditional foods and items. The school gym where it was held was crowded with people greeting each other with hugs and kisses, everyone in a happy New Years spirit.

A calligraphy artist was writing people's names in Parsi so I asked if he could write mine too.


"Ruth" (read from the right)

In the auditorium we were entertained with singers, spoken word (all in Parsi) stories and poetry and folk dancers.


And belly dancers!




When I was asked by friends why there were belly dancers when in Iran women must were burqas, the reason is that before the Ayatollahs regime, Iranian women had freedoms similar to ours.  When I watched these beautiful women dance I couldn't help but remember how during Alexander the Great's time, the Soghdian princess, Roxana, had danced for him.  It's easy to see how he was so captivated that he married her!


The celebration of No-rooz is often centered on fire and part of the rituals of No-rooz is to leap over a bonfire. This is still practiced as part of the No-rooz festivities. This is a purification rite. People young and old leap over fires with songs of merriment. Translated,the traditional greeting they chant is "I will give you my yellow color (sign of sickness) and you give me your fiery red color (sign of healthiness).

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