Soraya Maleki, LAc.

Spring is almost here! On the heels of the Chinese New Year comes one last opportunity to celebrate the ushering in of 2015. Symbolic of the rebirth of nature, the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, is celebrated on the first day of spring. With Now meaning new, and ruz meaning day, the customs performed during this yearly celebration are representations of two opposing forces; end and rebirth/good and evil. This is a time of year to thoroughly clean and rearrange one’s home, make or buy new clothing, bake pastries and germinate seeds as a sign of renewal.

A ceremonial table setting, or sofreh-ye haft-sinn, is arranged in each home to display symbolic dishes representing rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience and beauty. The words sofreh-ye haft-sinn translate to “cloth of seven dishes.” Upon this cloth is placed sabzeh, or sprouts, to represent birth. Sib, or apple, represents health and beauty. Senjed, or sweet, dry fruit of the lotus tree, represents love. Seer, or garlic, represents medicine. Samanu, a creamy, sweet pudding, represents the finesse of Persian cooking. Somaq, or sumac berries, represents the color of the sunrise. It is said that “with the appearance of the sun, good conquers evil.” Serkeh, or vinegar, represents age and patience. Additional items are placed on the sofreh-ye haft-sinn to reinforce the intentions of the seven dishes. Items include two books of wisdom and tradition; the Koran and a volume of poems by the great Persian poet Hafez. Coins placed on the sofreh represent prosperity and wealth. A basket of painted eggs represents fertility. An orange placed in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space. A goldfish, placed in a different bowl, represents life and the end of the astral year-Pisces. Rose water, hyacinth and narcissus are added to the sofreh to entice the senses. A mirror is surrounded by two candelabras which hold a lit candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness, while the mirror reflects the images of creation. Seven special sweets are the final additions to the sofreh, which include, sugar coated almonds, Persian baklava, almond cookies flavored with cardamom and rose water, chickpea cookies with cardamom and pistachios, honey almonds cooked with saffron, rice flour cookies with cardamom and poppy seeds, and walnut cookies.

Nowruz is a time to share love and blessings with family and friends. Traditional songs are sung, poems written by Hafez are recited, and dancing and merriment are carried on into the late evening/early morning. Creating a beautiful and enjoyable environment for those celebrating Nowruz is extremely important as it sets the tone for the year to come. Efforts are made for the home to feel happy and calm, with the fragrance of sweetness permeating the air. There is an old adage that says, “Good thought, good word, good deed-to the year end, happy indeed.”

The Nowruz celebration continues for 12 days following the spring equinox. This is a time of festiveness where younger family members visit their older relatives as a sign of respect, while the older loved ones return the gesture during the subsequent days. On the 13th day, called Sizdeh-bedar, families and friends gather together in the outdoors to celebrate the completion of one year and the rebirth of another.

Fish and noodles are typically served on Nowruz as they are seen as harbingers of good luck in the year to come. Noodle soup, or Ash-e reshteh, is a dish in which the noodles represent the Gordian knots of life. Eating the noodles is symbolic of unraveling life’s knotty problems. Herbed rice with fish, or Sabzi polow ba mahi, is also served and celebrated for its symbolism. The herbs represent rebirth and the fish represents life. Please enjoy these delicious traditional dishes to celebrate the end of the year past and the birth of this exciting new year.

Nooshe jan! (may your soul be nourished),