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Middle East Kavitha Dispatch

Persian New Year Fun
April 1, 2000

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Goodbye to the gray storms and frigid snowy nights! Hello to sunny blue skies and fresh flowers! We've left Turkey's freezing winter behind and entered Iran... and what a glorious time of year to enter! We've arrived with the new season, a time for fresh new beginnings, the nation's biggest National holiday: No Ruz-the Persian New Year!

Unlike our New Year, which begins during the cold dark days of the winter, the Iranian New Year always begins on the first day of spring. Doesn't it make sense for a New Year to begin with a fresh new start, when nature is coming to life again? As the first flowers start to bloom, so too do the aspirations and wishes for the new year.
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It's a favorite time of year for Iranians, a time when families and friends get together for big feasts and celebrations. But it's not exactly the best time of year to visit Iran. Since everyone in the country spends time with their families this time of year, most businesses and schools are closed... and unlike our New Year, things don't exactly re-open the next day. No Ruz lasts for 2 weeks!!! Luckily for us, our guides Hadi, Louie, and Amir, have invited us to spend the holidays with their families. So unlike our normal routine of constant travel and visiting historic sites and service groups, your roving trekkers are relaxing in a home, being fed and taken care of by our fun and hospitable new Persian friends and their families... it's a holiday for us too! Thank goodness for Persian friends. Instead of wandering the empty streets, and trying to visit closed museums and memorials, we're getting a first hand look into the traditions of No Ruz!

No Ruz celebrations are very symbolic of the age-old tribute to opposing forces... the triumph of good over evil, of endings and new beginnings, of light and dark. It begins on the first day of spring, on the vernal equinox, (March 21 on our calendar) as a commemoration of our transition out of the darkness and cold of winter in to the longer, lighter days of spring.
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As Abeja talked about in herlast dispatch, the festivities for No Ruz begins on the last Wednesday of the year, Chahar Shanbeh Suri, when bonfires are lit through the streets in hopes of enlightenment and happiness in the coming year. Traditionally it is believed that the fires will help light the way through the unlucky night, the end of the year, and lead to the arrival of spring's longer days.

Families use No Ruz as an occasion to gain a fresh new start, so the weeks leading to No Ruz are weeks of spring cleaning and planting of gardens. They will make new clothes and bake pastries, like the yummy cookies we ate at Amir's house. His mom also had a tray of soggy seeds sitting on the kitchen counter, that I later found out were wheat berry seeds germinating! These are all made to symbolize renewal.
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Ever since we first entered Iran last week, we've all been wondering why so many Iranians like buying goldfish and little patches of wheat grass. Every street corner in every town has stores blocking the sidewalks selling nothing but goldfish and grass! As it turns out, goldfish and grass are part of another tradition of No Ruz. Every family prepares a ceremonial table during No Ruz. Instead of Christmas Trees, Iranians decorate this table with beautiful festive things for their holiday. Each family decorates their tables differently, but there are some essential things that every No Ruz table will have, like the 'haft seen'. Haft seen are 7 articles that symbolize the triumph of good over evil. These can include many different things, but they all must start with the Farsi letter 's'.
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Hadi's daughter Eva, helped explain to us what her family chose to put on their No Ruz table. "Sabzey," she said pointing at the patch of grass. "Oh it's wheat grass!" blurted Abeja in joy. The sprouted wheat grass is symbolic of new spring growth. "Seckeh," Eva said putting her hands in a glass full of coins. Token presents of money are exchanged on No Ruz as a wish for a prosperous new year, and Hadi made sure not to leave us out. We all are now the proud owners of beautiful, new 10,000 rial notes each signed with New Year blessings on it in Farsi. It's so beautiful I don't think I'll ever spend it. Don't worry that's not a waste of too much money: 10,000 rials is less than US$6! "Samano," Eva said, pointing at dark, goopey syrup. Samano, we were soon to find out, is a yummy sweet spread that looks kind of like dark, creamy honey. It's made from sugar and sprouted wheat berries. "Sumak, seeb, seer, serkeh!" said Eva pointing at the final 4 items that rounded out the haft seen: a reddish/purple spice, apples, garlic, and vinegar.

Most No Ruz tables also include at least one beautiful, bright new goldfish, some candles and a mirror to reflect the light and goodness of the candles in hopes of a bright new year. Today it is common to include a Koran, the sacred Islamic text, on the table. "When the Arabs invaded Persia, they were afraid to allow us to continue with our traditions and celebrations," Louie explained to me. "But as long as we included a Koran on the No Ruz table, that's all they needed to allow us to continue in the tradition."
The Origin of No Ruz
Legend has it that long, long ago, a mighty and glorious King named Jamshid ruled over Persia. Jamshid taught his people the arts of weaving, mining, building, and making arms. He then defeated the hideous demon hosts. Once defeated, the demons were reduced to slaves for the benefit of mankind. Jamshid ordered the demons to build him a special carriage. Once the carriage was ready, to the amazement and joy of all the people, the monsters lifted it into the air and Jamshid rode the carriage from Demavand to Babylon. This special day was called No Ruz (the New Day), and has since been made in to an annual celebration.

In addition to goldfish and grass, we've also noticed a lot of shiny, colorful Easter eggs for sale on the street. Easter eggs in Iran?! Actually, they look just like Easter Eggs, but here they're considered No Ruz eggs. Many cultures around the world use eggs this time of year to symbolize fertility and birth. Here in Iran, colored eggs are also placed on the No Ruz table and mothers will eat one cooked egg for every child she has. Hadi's wife, Faribo, got to eat 2 eggs this No Ruz! Hotan, their new baby boy, was just born 2 weeks ago, and Eva finally has a little sibling to play with! Since none of us have any children yet, we world trekkers used the eggs for different purposes. Did you know that you can balance a raw egg on its side during the vernal equinox? The poles are aligned in such a way that gravity allows it just twice a year (now and again during the autumnal equinox)!

Ahhhh.... these past few days relaxing and celebrating with Hadi and his family have really been wonderful. The sun has been shining, and today the tree in the courtyard started to open its first blooms, as if to say, "Happy No Ruz!" As the weather starts to warm up and we awaken out of our winter hibernation, let's all join nature in making a fresh start, full of hope and joy for the coming year.

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 

Abeja - Trekking the Silk Road
Brian - Yes, They've Heard of Ricky Martin--and More Answers to Your Questions
Jasmine - Spring Forward! Into the Year 1379?
Team - Purim: An Ancient Story Not Soon Forgotten
Monica - The Hejab in Iran: Don't Leave Home Without It...

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