Nowruz, also spelled Noruz, is the Iranian New Year’s celebration, observed by Zoroastrians, Parsis, and others. The word Nowruz means “new day.” It is celebrated in a number of countries, which include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. The celebration is thousands of years old, having begun in the reign of the Achaemenids, 550–330 B.C., but although it began as a Persian celebration, it has been adopted and embellished by Islam.
The celebration of Nowruz begins precisely with the vernal equinox, so it is celebrated on or around the twenty-first day of March, the first day of spring. The celebration lasts several weeks. It involves many traditions and rituals.
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As in other religious traditions, house cleaning, called Khaneh Tekani, is a preparation activity leading up to the holiday. Sprouting seeds in water, sabze, is a symbolic act that shows how context provides opportunities for growth. Hafsin is the tradition of collecting at least seven items from a special list, each of which begins with the letter s and carries a symbolic meaning. The list includes the sabze mentioned above, as well as sombol — hyacinths, sib — the apple, serke — vinegar, several fish, and other items.
Haji Firuz, troubadours, sing and dance as they parade through the streets with instrumental accompaniment. On the sixth day of the new year is the celebration of the birthday of Zarathustra, the Persian prophet who was the founder of Zoroastrianism.
Visits are another Nowruz custom, with younger members of the community calling upon their elders. These visits take place within the first 12 days of the new year. The 13th day, Sizdah Bedar, is both a national holiday and the end of the Nowruz celebration. It is marked by a visit to a natural area, such as a park, to connect with nature and to dispose of the sabze in a natural running body of water. Young people make knots in the grass that has grown from the sprouts to make a wish for being married in the next year.
Part of the celebration of Nowruz involves the preparation of special foods, and the cooking begins several weeks in advance. Bâglâva or baklava is one of the important recipes for Nowruz. Sabzi Polo Mahi, a dish that combines smoked fish, rice, and herbs, is served the day before Nowruz, and Resteh Polo, a dish with rice and noodles, is served on Nowruz.