Sale no mobarak! That phrase—”Happy New Year”—was heard in countless households across the world today. When we welcome in the season of spring (or the vernal equinox) on March 20 each year, Persians welcome in their New Year: Nowruz (which translates to “New Day”), a thirteen-day period of celebrations with family and friends.
Like many holidays, Nowruz is built on tradition. In each household, there is a haft seen (in farsi, seven “s”) table upon which seven items symbolizing new life and wishes for the coming year are placed. The seven items include: sabzeh (lentil sprouts) for rebirth; samanu (a sweet pudding made from lentil sprouts) for affluence; sensed (dried wild olives) for love; sir (garlic) for medicine/health; sib (apple) for beauty; sumac (sumac) for the sunrise; and serkeh (vinegar) for old-age/patience. In addition to those essential objects, haft seen tables normally hold even more items, including sonbol (hyacinth flowers) for spring; aayne (mirror) for self-reflection and to symbolize the sky; mahi (fish, typically for Nowruz a goldfish) for life; a book of poetry (frequently by the poet Hafiz, or a book of the epic poem the Shamaneh); tokhmen morgh (painted eggs) for fertility; sekkeh (coins) for prosperity; sham (candles) for enlightenment; and nuts and shirini (sweets, like cookies) for guests to eat.
The haft seen table is more than just a decorative set-piece for the holiday—it is the center of celebration. When the New Year occurs at the exact moment of equinox, family and friends gather around the table. The eldest family member reads a bit of poetry and hands out money to the younger members of the family. Then, like with most New Year’s celebrations around the world, it’s time to eat, drink, and be merry!
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