What is Nowruz?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

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.

Nowruz is celebrated in a number of countries, including Pakistan.
Nowruz is celebrated in a number of countries, including Pakistan.

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.

Nowruz is celebrated in Iran.
Nowruz is celebrated in Iran.

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.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


I love Nowruz! It's the best time of the year. The sun is shining and it's so good to be home with family. My favorite part is decorating eggs and having my mom's Sabzi Polo Mahi and fried fish. Sabzi Polo Mahi is a little different than Resteh Poli. It is just rice and herbs like parsley and dill. My family always has this and fish on Nowruz and lots of Baklava!


I was at my Persian friends house one year when her family was having Nowruz celebrations. The most interesting thing for me was the Nowruz table. As far as I can remember, the table had lentil sprouts, vinegar, apples, dried fruit and nuts, delicious Persian pastries and cookies, goldfish and painted eggs!

Each one of these items was a symbol of something- like health, rebirth, wealth and other things. I don't remember them all but I remember the goldfish and eggs because I was so surprised about them.

I think the goldfish means life and eggs means fertility and children. I hadn't expected to see goldfish on the Nowruz table. I also didn't expect to see decorated eggs because it is an Easter tradition for me. It surprised me to see it in another culture. I think Easter and Nawrouz is kind of similar.


I actually didn't know that there were so many traditions of Nowruz even though I am from the Middle East. Countries aside from Iran are celebrating it recently, even though it wasn't a tradition before. I think it is more of a cultural celebration rather than a religious one for some countries.

My mom has actually started doing some of the traditions which she heard about on TV. This year, she took sand from seven ant homes and placed them in a cloth along with a prayer of the things she wishes for, for the next year.

I think it's nice to start out a new year with hope and prayers. Spring and Nowrouz is when we witness everything coming alive again after winter. So it's really the perfect time to celebrate and pray.

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