When I was a little girl, I always felt so lucky to get to celebrate one extra holiday a year. Every March, on the first day of Spring, we would celebrate our Persian New Year. Today is the first day of the year in our calendar, and a day to celebrate Nowruz. It is the first day of Spring, and from the time I was young, I always wondered why my American friends celebrated the first day of the year on a cold, dark day in January.
"Nowruz is the most important holiday in Iran. Preparations for Nowruz begin in the month Esfand, the last month of winter in the Persian solar calendar.
Spring cleaning, or Khouneh Tekouni (literally means 'shaking the house') or 'complete cleaning of the house' is commonly performed before Nowruz. Persians start preparing for the Nowruz with a major spring-cleaning of their houses, the purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year and the purchase of flowers.
In association with the "rebirth of nature", extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. This is also extended to personal attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes. On the New Year's Day, families dress in their new clothes and start the twelve-day celebrations by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. On the thirteenth day families leave their homes and picnic outdoors."
This week my Mom and Dad came over to help do the deep cleaning of our house. These days I'm not good of much of anything but doing dishes and vacuuming, and getting down on my hands and knees to scrub is out of the question. I started my cleaning a few weeks ago, emptying closets and getting rid of extra clutter around the house before I knew I would be too tired, and entirely too pregnant to do anything. We had our carpets cleaned Monday, and on Thursday they came over and my Mom scrubbed every corner of our house spotless, while my Dad planted a few new shrubs in the yard.
Everything feels light, new, and ready for the start of new life. Vases around the house are filled with blooms and flowers, the windows are all open, and there is an overall sense of readiness and peace around our house.
We celebrated Nowruz a day early, yesterday. Here are the traditions we follow on the first day of the year.
Nowruz always begins with a few people (usually Grandpa) napping while my Mom runs around in the kitchen, finishing the last touches on dinner. Don't worry if for a minute you thought he was dead in this picture - I had to check and make sure he was breathing before I was myself convinced that he was still alive, and ready for his 88th birthday, tomorrow.
The house is always filled with the smell of all the wonderful food being cooked. Especially the dried herbs from my Mom's garden every past Summer. I want to bottle up this smell.
The coffee table is set and prepared with the Hafstin. All the pastries carefully covered until it's time to eat.
"Haftseen (Persian: "Haftseen/Haftsā") or the seven 'S's is a traditional table setting of Nowruz, the traditional Iranian spring celebration. Today the haft seen table includes seven specific items, all starting with the seen (Sā) in the Persian alphabet. Traditionally, families attempt to set the most aesthetically appealing Haft Sîn table they can as an expression of traditional, spiritual, and social value, for visitors during Nowruz visitations. The Haft Seen items are:
1. Sabzeh - wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts growing in a dish - symbolizing rebirth
2. Samanu - sweet pudding made from wheat germ - symbolizing affluence
3. Senjed - dried oleaster fruit - symbolizing love
4. Sir - garlic - symbolizing medicine
5. Sib - apples - symbolizing beauty and health
6. Somāq - sumac fruit - symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
7. Serkeh - vinegar - symbolizing old-age and patience
The house is also filled with the smell of Sonbol (Hyacinth flowers). They remind me so much of Spring, and every year after the Hafstin comes down, my Mom plants the bulbs in her yard. On Nowruz, outside the window the Sonbols from past years bloom outside while the new ones wait on the table for their time to be planted.
We sit around for a couple hours visiting and waiting for the food to be ready. By this time we're usually starving and ready to pick at everything on the table, which is probably why my Mom keeps everything covered up. So I just wander around to take photos.
When it's finally time to eat, Grandpa is always the first to the table. We eat the traditional foods, like Sabzi Polo, fish, and Maast-o-khiar, a cold yogurt with cucumbers and herbs.
And we eat. A lot. It's like Thanksgiving for Persians, and your plate has to be filled over and over until you can barely breathe.
With our bellies full, we all squeeze onto the couch to try and get a photo together. With a handful of adults, two people in their 80's, a baby, and a couple dogs around, this always turns into a huge ordeal, and we hardly ever get a photo that every one looks good in. They usually end up looking like this:
With a little (and very little) time to make room in our bellies, the Haftsin is uncovered and it's time to snack on dried fruit, lavash bread and paneer cheese with cucumbers, and the traditional Persian sweets.
My Mom spends days preparing them all from scratch.
We sip our tea and eat plates full of them, almost dying from the overload of sweetness.
It is one of my favorite days of the year. A time to be with family, eat all my favorite foods, and make big plans for the new year ahead.
Happy New year, friends. Spring is here, and it's time to think about all the big hopes and dreams we want to set for ourselves, this year.
Every year I plan on starting a 365 project - taking one photo a day. I never feel very inspired or moved to start this on January 1st, when the world seems cold and dead. So this year, I decided I would start this project for myself on our new year.
Every day, a brand new day and opportunity to find something beautiful in the world. This morning, it was the new shrub my Dad planted for me this week.
I can't wait to put together an album of 365 photos next Spring, to see where this year will take me.