Nowruz, the feast of peace and purity

Ornamented with precious values of the ancient Persian civilization, Nowruz is an Iranian festivity which marks the beginning of the new solar year on the first day of spring and vernal equinox.

Today, more than 300 million people around the world celebrate Nowruz and hold festivals and ceremonies to glorify this invaluable historical tradition.

People in the Persian-speaking countries of Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan celebrate Nowruz along with some groups of people in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Iraq, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Albania, Macedonia and Georgia.

On February 23, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized March 21st as the International Day of Nowruz and called for increased international attention to this ancient Persian tradition which is now encompassing the whole Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus and Black Sea Basin.

The UN General Assembly "called on Member States that celebrate the festival to study its history and traditions with a view to disseminating that knowledge among the international community and organizing annual commemoration events."

Prior to the recognition of March 21st as the International Day of Nowruz, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had included this ancient Persian festival in its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity upon the submission of a proposal by Iran and its neighboring countries to the organization.

Nowruz is a festival which is celebrated during 13 days. According to the Jalali Calendar which was devised and designed by Omar Khayyam, the renowned Iranian philosopher, polymath and mathematician, the first day of Nowruz is coincided with the moment of the transition of the year or the commencement of vernal equinox in which the sun is observed to be directly over the equator, and the north and south poles of the Earth lie along the solar terminator; sunlight is equally divided between the north and south hemispheres.

The moment of the transition of the year has been symbolically and traditionally dear and cherished to the Iranian people. They believe that at this moment, the old year comes to an end and the New Year begins, so all of the improper habits, bad memories, animosities and enmities should disappear and be replaced by happiness, goodwill, friendship and benevolence.

A few hours prior to the beginning of the New Year, Iranians spread a table setting called Haft Seen. On this table setting, Iranians put seven items and materials whose names begin with the Persian letter "Seen" or the English "S" and represent a certain quality which is beloved by the people.

Some of the most popular items of Haft Seen table include "Samanu" which is a sweet pudding made from wheat germ and characterizes cheerfulness, rejuvenation and affluence, "Sib" or apple which symbolizes rebirth, health and well-being, "Sekkeh" or coins which represent wealth and richness, "Sonbol" or the fragrant hyacinth flower which announces the beginning of the new year and "Somaq" or sumac which stands for sunrise and power.

One of the most popular customs which is conventionally observed by the Iranians during the 13 days of Nowruz is family gatherings. Children of any age go to visit their parents and grandparents and get holiday gifts from them. The grandmothers and grandfathers retell ancient stories, tales and fables for the youngsters. Fathers and mothers bring dry nuts, sweetmeat, eggs and clothes for the newly-married couples.

The housewives and mothers usually grow wheat, barley or lentil sprouts in dishes and place them on the Haft Seen table. On the 13th day of Nowruz which is called Sizdah Bedar or the Day of Nature and is believed to be a day of blessing and bounty for the people, all of the families leave their homes, go out and camp in the groves or prairies and also throw their dishes of wheat, barely or lentil sprouts in the rivers so that the potential bad omen, immorality and evilness of the coming year disappear with the dish.

However, Iranians have rightfully mixed their ancient national traditions with religious symbols to make Nowruz an opportunity for moral and spiritual revitalization along with recreation and amusement.

Since the emergence of Islam in Iran, the people of Iran merged Nowruz with Islamic customs and used the opportunity of the New Year festivals to approach the Almighty God and enshrine their traditional religious beliefs. For the Muslim nation of Iran, Quran is the paramount component of the Haft Seen table which is put on the most elevated position of the table setting.

During the last moments of the old year in which all of the family members gather around the Haft Seen table and wait for the transition of the New Year, Iranians pray for the wellbeing of the patients, the improvement and progress of their country and propagation of goodwill and benevolence to all over the world.

Nowruz is a festival for peace and purity. You can find in it both enjoyment and spirituality. Terrestrial and divine beauties can be seen in Nowruz simultaneously. Nowruz is an opportunity for the enrichment of the self and integration and solidarity of those who celebrate it all around the world.