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photo of a Bas-Relief in Persepolis, Iran, symbolizing Zoroastrian Nowruz

Open the windows, 
For the kind breeze is celebrating the birthday of the beautiful flowers, 
And spring,
 On each and every branch,
 Close to each young leaf,
 Has turned on lovely candles!

Fereydoon Moshiri, contemporary poet

After a long and harsh Iranian winter, March is the time when the sun finally gets the strength to overcome the gloom of winter. After the complete death of nature, life begins to blossom again in March. The trees come back to life as the shorebirds come back home. March is a miracle. For us it is time to start a new life, a new year, a new day, Nowruz!

Nowruz, which means new day in Farsi, is the most important holiday in our country. It’s the beginning of spring and the first day of our official calendar. You could say it’s our new year. We celebrate the very first moment of spring. The corresponding dates on the Gregorian calendar would be 20, 21 or 22 of March and the hour varies depending upon the time the sun crosses the spring equinox.

The history of Nowruz dates back 3000 years, with its origin in Iran. It is the official new year in Iran and Afghanistan, although it is celebrated in some western and central Asian countries as well.

In harmony with the rebirth of nature, we purify our houses with a major spring cleansing called Khune Tekooni”, which literally means shaking the house. This usually includes a massive decluttering, washing windows, carpets and almost everything in the house.  This way, we also get ready to receive Nowruz visiting.

Haji Piruz is our Iranian Santa clause. He is neither chubby, nor a white old man with beard, although he does wear bright red clothes and a hat. His face is covered in soot. It is said that he represents ancient Zoroastrian fire-keepers. He does not bring us any presents but he sings us our Iranian jingle bells. He brings us joy and delight, playing the trumpet and tambourine and dancing on the streets of Iran, spreading news of upcoming Nowruz.

As a prelude to Nowruz, Iranians celebrate the last Wednesday eve of the year – “Chaharshanbe Suri, or Festival of Fire” – by lighting up the city with fireworks and dancing around and jumping over bonfires. Hoping for happiness and health throughout the coming year, we chant to the fire: “ Give me your red colour and take away my yellowness”. Since redness is associated with good health, and yellowness with pallor. This festival, like Nowruz,  dates back to the Zoroastrian era when fire was a holy and respected element.

Nowruz festival lasts for 13 days. During these 2 weeks people visit their family, friends and neighbours. Usually the youth will visit the elders first and then elders may return their visits. These visits are short and may last from 30 minutes to an hour.


Our Nowruz decoration is a table called Haft-Seen, or seven ‘S’s.  The Haft-Seen table contains seven items starting with ‘s’:

  1. Sabzeh, wheat, lentil, mug bean sprouts – symbolizing rebirth
  2. Samanu, a sweet made of wheat sprouts -symbolizing affluence
  3. Seeb, apple – symbolizing health and beauty
  4. Senjed, dry fruit of the lotus tree – symbolizing love
  5. Seer, garlic – symbolizing medicine
  6. Somaq, Sumac – symbolizing sunrise
  7. Serkeh, vinegar symbolizing old age and patience [1]

Haft-Seen also includes a mirror, a lamp or candles, painted eggs, gold fish, pomegranates and nuts.

We usually keep the table until the 13th day of our first month, Farvardin. (13 days after Nowruz). The 13th of Farvardin is our nature festival called Sizdah Bedar, which translates as “get rid of the thirteenth” or “thirteen outdoor”. Since it is believed that 13 is an unlucky number, we should get rid of this day by going out for a picnic in nature. People throw their sprouts away and some people set the gold fish free in a river.





Images. Photos by Shafagh Helalat.

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Shafagh Helalat

At the end of last year, miles away from Iran and surrounded by Christmas shoppers and images of Santa Claus on the streets of Madrid, I was ...



Shafagh Helalat

Open the windows, 
For the kind breeze is celebrating the birthday of the beautiful flowers, 
And spring,
 On each and every branch,
 Close ...

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