Skip to main content

The scent of Spring

By March 18, 2024Blog post

Daffodils paint the ground, Hyacinths bring vibrant hues, and trees are dressed in pink and white blossoms. The cold, dark winter is fading, and warmth and joy are taking over. For many refugees far from home, the transformation stirs a deep longing for Norouz, the Persian New Year celebrated with immense joy and festivity. Spring holds an extra layer of nostalgia for those away from their homeland, yearning to be with their loved ones and mark the arrival of spring and a fresh start.

Norouz, also spelt Nowruz, marks the Persian New Year and the official beginning of spring. The ancient celebration, rooted in Zoroastrianism, can be traced back over 3,000 years and is recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Norouz is celebrated around the spring equinox, usually on March 20th or 21st, by Iranians, Kurds, Azeris, Afghans, Tajiks, and various communities in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans celebrate Norouz.

“Norouz” means “new day” in Persian, symbolising renewal, rejuvenation, and rebirth. The celebration is deeply embedded in the rich Persian culture and history and represents a time of hope, happiness, and renewal for individuals, families, and communities. Norouz is not just a cultural event; it also carries ecological significance, highlighting the human connection to nature and the cycles of the Earth.

Norouz festivities are varied, reflecting the diverse cultures that celebrate it. Preparations often begin weeks in advance, including house cleaning (known as “khouneh tekouni” or “shaking the house”), purchasing at least one new clothing item, and making pastries. The last Tuesday eve of the year is called Chaharshanbe Suri, also known as the Festival of Fire. The celebration is part of Norouz festivities, where people gather outdoors and light bonfires in public places; they dance and jump over the flames. The act symbolises leaving behind the past year’s darkness and embracing the new year’s light and warmth.

A pillar of Norouz is the Haft Seen table. Haft Seen means the “Seven Ss” in Persian, and it includes seven items starting with the letter ‘S’, each symbolising a different hope for the new year.

The seven items typically included in the Haftseen table setting are:

  1. Sabzeh (Sprouts or greens) usually wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts, symbolising rebirth and renewal.
  2. Seeb (Apples) symbolising beauty and health
  3. Samanu: A sweet pudding made from germinated wheat, symbolising affluence and fertility.
  4. Senjed (The dried fruit) of the oleaster tree, symbolising love and affection.
  5. Seer (Garlic) symbolising medicine and health.
  6. Somāq (Sumac) symbolising sunrise and the victory of good over evil.
  7. Serkeh (Vinegar) symbolising age and patience.
  8. Sekeh (coin) represents wealth and prosperity

In addition to these seven items, other symbolic items are in the Haftseen setting, including a mirror as a symbol of reflection and self-reflection, candles as a symbol of light and enlightenment, painted eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life and a holy book or poetry which symbolising wisdom and culture. Also, goldfish were traditionally included to symbolise life but in recent years, the use of goldfish in Haftseen has become less common due to growing awareness of animal welfare concerns and ethical considerations. The celebration lasts for 13 days, and it concludes with Sizdeh Bedar. “Sizdeh” means thirteen, and “Bedar” means getting rid of reflecting the desire to avoid the bad luck traditionally associated with the number thirteen.

The thirteenth day of Farvardin, the first month of the Persian calendar, which usually falls into April 1st or 2nd in the Gregorian calendar, is observed as a picnic day and outdoor celebration, marking the end of the Norouz holiday period.

Family and community are at the heart of Norouz celebrations. People visit one another’s homes, share special meals, and exchange gifts.

For those celebrating Norouz abroad, it can be daunting, particularly for those spending Norouz for the first time away from loved ones. Many are seeking safety in the U.K. and experiencing the cruelty of a hostile asylum system; Norouz can be a sad reminder of the warmth of family and heritage.

Despite these hurdles, the resilience and creativity of communities that celebrate Norouz shine through cultural festivals and educational events; communities not only keep the traditions alive and spread joy but also share the beauty of Norouz with their new neighbours, building bridges across cultures.