The first day of spring marks the beginning of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The celebration lasts 13 days and is rooted in the 3,000-year-old tradition of Zorastrianism.
It's spring. Time to plan for the new year. Yes, yes, we know. We just did that.
The tradition marks the first day of spring and offers rich symbolic experiences.
Norouz (also spelled Nowruz or No-Ruz), meaning "new day," is a secular holiday.
It pays tribute to the rebirth of nature, the beginning of life, the creation of the universe. Who can argue with that?
Preparations for Norouz include an all-out spring-cleaning, called khaneh takani, to get out the demons, cleanse the self and start afresh. Sweeping and scrubbing are two essential activities, but feel free to throw on a new coat of paint and buy some new clothes while you're at it.
One week before the Persian New Year, Persian families also start growing sabzeh (see picture below) - lentil or wheat sprouts, a sign of renewal.
The "new day" occurs on the vernal (spring) equinox. This year it coincides with sunrise in Europe.
March 20, 2008, is a date that most of us recognize as symbolic of changing seasons. As we welcome spring, people south of the equator are actually gearing up for the cooler temperatures of autumn.
What Happens at the Equinox?
Far from being an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons, March 20 (March 21 in some years) is significant for astronomical reasons. On March 20, 2008, at precisely 1:48 A.M. EDT (March 20, 05:48 Universal Time), the Sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, this is the moment of the autumnal equinox. Equinox Means "Equal Night".
This year, 2008, exact time when the sun directly crosses over the earth's equator in different time zones:
Tehran: Thursday: 09:18:19 AM March 20, 2008
New York:Thursday 01:48:19 AM March 20, 2008
Los Angeles: Wednesday 10:48:19 PM March 19, 2008
Berlin: Thursday 06:48:19 AM March 20, 2008
The focus of this day is a special table setting featuring symbolic elements. Called the Haft-Seen-literally "seven S's" - these ceremonial arrangements bring together the seven heralds of life: love, patience, rebirth, prosperity, spice of life, spring and health.
Each element of the setting begins with "seen," the Persian letter s, such as senjed (oleaster, a sweet dried fruit of the lotus family), representing love; and sonbol (hyacinth), symbolizing the spring season and renewal.
The family gathers in one home - usually that of the family elders. Around the Haft-Seen, family members sing and do readings - often of the verses of the beloved 14th-century poet Hafez. And finally, there is the meal, a lavish, colorful experience of exquisite tastes and aromas, followed by lots of sweets.