Below is a reproduction of an article I did for work on Newroz, the holiday marking the beginning of Spring and the New Year for many Middle Eastern Cultures.
Norouz- Happy New Year!
Norouz is Persian for “New Day” and marks the New Year’s holiday for people in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, India, Turkey, Zanzibar, various countries of Central Asia, and among ethnic Kurds. The holiday is also a holy day for those of the Zoroastrian and Baha’i faiths as well as some Sufi sects of Islam.
Rather than celebrating the New Year at the end of the calendar year, Norouz is celebrated on the first day of Spring, the vernal equinox, which occurs each year around March 21st. Traditions vary depending on the community for the celebration of Norouz, but we thought that we would share some of the more interesting ones here.
The Haft Sin-
One of the major Iranian traditions of Norouz is the setting of the Haft Sin- the seven ‘S’s, seven items starting with the letter S or sin in Persian. The seven items on the table symbolically correspond to the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. While some of the items on the table have changed, the symbolism remains the same. Common items (and their symbolism) found on a traditional Haft Sin table include:
-sabzeh- wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish (rebirth)
-samanu- a sweet pudding made from wheat germ (affluence)
-senjed- the dried fruit of the oleaster tree (love)
-sib- apples (beauty and health)
-somaq- sumac berries (the color of sunrise)
-serkeh- vinegar (age and patience)
-sonbol- the hyacinth flower (the coming of Spring)
-sekkeh- coins (prosperity and wealth)
Others items found could include: traditional Iranian pastries, lit candles (enlightenment and happiness), a mirror, painted eggs, a bowl with two goldfish (life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving), a bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space) and a holy book.
The traditional herald of the Norouz season is Hajji Firuz. He symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. He uses face paint to make his skin black and wears a red costume. Then he sings and dances through the streets with a tambourine, spreading good cheer and announcing the coming of the New Year.
Chaharshanbe Suri-the Iranian Festival of Fire-
Celebrated on the last Wednesday before the New Year (Norouz), this festival is a celebration of the light (the good) winning over the darkness (the bad). The tradition includes people going into the streets and alleys to make fires, and then jumping over the fires to symbolize passing their bad health and luck from the past year to the fire in exchange for the good.
It is said that the living are visited at this time by the spirit of their ancestors on the last days of the year. Children often dress up in shrouds to re-enact these visits. They go from door to door to “visit” and ask for treats, very similar to Halloween in the West. There are also several other traditions on this night, including the rituals of Kuzeh Shekastan, the breaking of earthen jars which symbolically hold one’s bad fortune; the ritual of Fal-Gush, or inferring one's future from the conversations of those passing by; and the ritual of Gereh-gosha’i, making a knot in the corner of a handkerchief or garment and asking the first passerby to unravel it in order to remove one’s misfortune. Prior to the beginning of these celebrations, tradition holds for a through spring-cleaning of all homes in order to welcome in the New Year.
The Legend of Kawa the Blacksmith-
There are many stories that tell the tale of the beginning of the celebration of Norouz; one of the more famous myths surrounding the holiday is the Kurdish Legend of Kawa the Blacksmith.
Once upon a time there was an evil Assyrian king named Dehak. The king and his kingdom were cursed because of his wickedness. The sun refused to shine and it was impossible to grow any food. The king Dehak had the added curse of having two snakes attached to his shoulders. When the snakes were hungry he was in great pain, and the only thing that would satisfy the hunger of the snakes were the brains of children. So every day, two of the children from the local villages were killed and their brains fed to the snakes.
Kawa was the local blacksmith and hated the king, as 16 of his 17 children had been sacrificed for the King’s snakes. When he received word that his last child, a daughter, was to be killed he came up with a plan to save her. Instead of sacrificing his daughter, Kawa had sacrificed a sheep and had given the sheep’s brain to the King. The difference was not noticed. When others heard of Kawa’s trickery they all did the same; at night they would send their children up to the mountains with Kawa where they would be safe. The children flourished in the mountains and Kawa created an army from the children to end the evil king’s reign.
When their numbers were great enough, they came down from the mountains and stormed the castle. Kawa himself cast the fatal blow to the evil king, Dehak. To tell the news to the people of Mesopotamia he built a large bonfire, which lit up the sky and cleansed the air of the evilness of Dehak’s reign. That very morning, the sun began to shine again and the lands began to grow once more. This is the beginning of the “New Day” or Newroz as it is spelled in Kurdish.
The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies- http://www.cais-soas.com
Kurdish Media- http://kurdishmedia.com