Iran marked Nowruz, the Persian new year, on March 21, 2023. The holiday, which falls on the spring equinox, dates back to the sixth century B.C. and is celebrated by all of the Islamic Republic’s religious sects. Many of the season’s traditions have roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic faith still practiced by some 25,000 in Iran. Iranians welcomed the new year with a variety of traditions that included jumping over fires, launching fireworks, painting eggs, and setting a Nowruz table with symbolic objects.
The theocracy has never fully approved of the pre-Islamic rite. In 2023, Nowruz coincided with increasing discontent among many Iranians as they dealt with a flailing economy, harsh government suppression, and international isolation. Roughly a week before the holiday, the judiciary announced that some 82,000 people had been granted amnesty for their alleged crimes, including 22,000 detained during nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022. But the move did not assuage grievances. On March 14, Iranians demonstrated in cities including Tehran, Karaj, and Rasht during Chahar Shanbeh Soori, the fire festival that starts on the last Tuesday evening of the year. The following are items typically included on the Nowruz table and pictures of Iranians marking the new year in March 2023.
Observance includes placing the seven items that begin with the "S" sound on the Nowruz table:
- Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal
- Samanu (sweet pudding): For affluence and fertility
- Senjed (sweet, dried lotus tree fruit): For love
- Serkeh (vinegar): For patience and wisdom gained through aging
- Sir (garlic): For medicine and maintaining good health
- Sib (apples): For health and beauty
- Sumac (crushed spice made from reddish berries): For recalling the sunrise
Additional items on the Nowruz table can include:
- Mirror: To reflect on the past year
- Live goldfish in a bowl: To represent new life
- Orange in a bowl of water: To symbolize the Earth
- Decorated eggs: For fertility
- Coins: For future prosperity
- Books of classical poetry and/or the Koran: For spirituality
Fire Festival (Chahar Shanbeh Soori)
The fire festival began on the final Tuesday evening of the year. The tradition has roots around 1700 B.C. and included jumping over fires and launching fireworks. In 2023, more than two dozen people were reportedly killed and some 4,000 injured in related accidents.
The Troubadour Haji Piruz
Men and boys dressed up as folk characters, sang songs and played instruments in public performances. Popular characters included Uncle Nowruz, a bearded man who hands out presents to children, and Haji Piruz, his clownish assistant. As part of the centuries-long tradition, Piruz impersonators blackened their faces with soot and wore bright red clothing.
Colorful Clothing and Wheat Grass
Women wore traditional, colorful dresses and carried grass and flowers to symbolize spring. Sabzeh, or sprouted wheat grass, is also one of the seven S’s placed on the Nowruz table. It symbolizes rebirth and renewal.
Iranians included painted eggs on the Nowruz table to symbolize fertility. They also painted large eggs that were displayed around Tehran and in parks.
Iranians included goldfish on the Nowruz table to symbolize new life. The tradition has raised concern from environmentalists and activists for the fish, which many people set free after the holiday.
Iranians celebrated Nowruz by shopping for items including gifts and new clothing.
Tehran held a horse jumping “Nowruz Cup,” which featured 30 Iranian and eight international riders.
Iranians began preparing their homes for Nowruz weeks in advance. The annual spring cleaning is known in Persian as khoneh takooni, or “shaking the house.” Families meticulously washed rugs, windows, and curtains and repaired furniture.
Picture Credits: Nowruz Table via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); Fire Festival via IRNA; Haji Piruz via Tasnim (CC BY 4.0); Women Holding Grass via Tasnim (CC BY 4.0); Decorating Eggs via Tasnim (CC BY 4.0); Goldfish via Fars News (CC BY 4.0); Shopping Market via Fars News (CC BY 4.0); Horse Jumping via IRNA; Spring Cleaning via Fars News (CC BY 4.0)