Nowruz (pronounced no-rooz) is a thirteen-day festival that starts from the very moment of the vernal equinox and is meant to signify the ushering in of the Persian New Year. It dates back around 3000 years, and is associated with Zoroastrianism. Therefore, it predates both Christianity and Islam. As a distinctly Persian festival, it is celebrated with fervor by Iranians all over the globe. In 2010, the UN recognized it formally as an international holiday.
People begin preparations for the festival as much as three weeks before it begins – and they start with a thorough spring-cleaning. Rugs are washed, rooms are cleaned, and space is prepared for the haft-seen which is a tradition where seven items beginning with S are displayed, representing a new hope for the year.
The first S is sabzeh, which is a plant or greenery that will continue to grow in the weeks leading and following Nowruz. Sib, or apples, are meant to signify beauty and health. Senjed are dried fruit which signify love. Seer is garlic, signifying medicine and self-care. Samanu is a sweet pudding, signifying fruitfulness and wealth. Serkeh is vinegar, signifying aging and the knowledge that comes with it. Sumac is a Persian spice, the red colour of which signifies dawning of a new day. It is made from sour red berries that have been crushed. In addition to these, many families also personalize the haft-seen by including their own traditional items.
Families living in Iran often indulge in other traditions too, including shab-e chahar shanbeh suri which translates to Eve of Red Wednesday. Celebrated on the Wednesday before Nowruz, the event consists of young men jumping over a burning fire, chanting. The chant roughly translates to a supplication for the fire to take away their pallor and give them its bright red color. Another popular tradition is similar to Halloween: children will go up to houses banging pots, in return for which they are given candy (no dress-up required!). Children are particularly favored on Nowruz; sweets aside, they are also showered with monetary gifts by elders.
On the 13th day of the celebrations, the sabzeh is taken to the closest body of running water where it is allowed to drift away. Even though this means jam-packed roads, everyone does it.
Nowruz food is also very special. Most Persian cuisine consists of steamed rice coupled with a braised meat cooked in a curry with deep-flavoured spices. Anyone who's tried it knows its rich flavors are absolutely divine. However, Nowruz has its own special dishes, one of which is the kuku sabzi, a large frittata-like dish made of baked eggs mixed with a host of fresh herbs.
The whole celebration basically centers on cleaning out the old life and ushering in a fresh year, full of hope and new beginnings. While the festival itself is rooted in traditions, community and the family, the symbolism behind it and that message of hope has allowed it to thrive for generations.