Despite the fact that it still feels like we’re stuck in the middle of winter, at precisely 7:02 am on March 20th, the vernal equinox marked the beginning of Spring.
This first day of Spring also marks Nowruz, the Persian New Year, a very special holiday in Iran, the country of my birth. The name ‘Nowruz’ (pronounced no-rooz) is a combination of two Persian words: “now” meaning new and “ruz” meaning day; together they mean “New Day.”
I was born in Iran and moved to NY when I was seven years old. Although I’m only one quarter Iranian, there are many Persian traditions and customs, which have been celebrated and cherished in my family throughout my life. I remember how proud I always felt of my background, regardless of the political climate. My American Father and my mother made sure to speak the language, prepare the delicious cuisine and teach us all about this special country and culture. Now, with my American husband, I enjoy teaching my own daughters about these traditions. Even though they are technically only one-eighth Persian, I’m proud to pass on a part of our heritage to them.
Nowruz is celebrated on several days and most of the traditions revolve around ridding one’s family of any negativity in the old year and preparing for a fresh, pure, healthy and happy year ahead. Each year, on the Tuesday evening before the holiday, we excitedly invite American friends over for “Chahr Shanbeh Souri”, when we jump over fire. The symbolism of this night is for the fire to take away sickness, and any problems, in turn giving us warmth, positive energy and good health.
I remember this night as a child, celebrating on beaches and in backyards with actual bunches of burning twigs, the dancing flames high and the little ones having to be carefully lifted by their parents. These days (with co-op rules), we jump over candles in our apartment while undoubtedly driving our neighbors below crazy with our enthusiastic leaping!
Each year my daughters help me set up a ‘haft seen’ table for this Holiday. The table consists of at least seven items beginning with the letter “s” in Farsi. They represent rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty. On the day of NowRuz, it is customary to gather with family, eat way too much delicious Persian food and call all your loved ones to exchange New Year’s greetings and good wishes for the year ahead.
The holiday officially ends on the 13th day with ‘Seezdah Bedar’, a day that is typically celebrated by packing a picnic and going to a river or stream and throwing away the ”Sabzeh” from the Haftsin table. The sabzeh, (which are green sprouts specially grown for this holiday) are supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate of the year. By throwing it in a running source of water, all the potential negativity is taken away, making room for only good things. In about two weeks you might see some of our sprouts floating in the East River!
Since my daughters started pre-school, I have gone to their classrooms at this time of year, just as my mother did with me. I display the items of the haft sin table, hand out some gold chocolate coins and read them a story about the Persian New Year. I am always happy to see how excited and proud my children are to help me teach their peers about a part of their culture.
One of my biggest regrets is not teaching them Farsi from birth. I’m hopeful that one day I will succeed in having them speak and understand this beautiful language that enabled me to communicate with my grandparents for years and still allows me do so with my mother (especially when we don’t want others to understand what we’re saying)!
My children are a beautiful mix of Persian, Polish, Italian and Irish. Throughout the year, we do our best to celebrate each of these ethnicities, whether it’s the Polish blessing of the Easter basket, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities or the Italian meatball recipes from long ago. I know that above all, our daughters are American but still feel strongly that having such rich cultures and fascinating histories as part of the fabric of their being will only make them more aware of where they came from, and the values which have been passed on to them from generations ago. Our hope that the diversity of their own background will not only make them more interesting individuals, but also motivate them to instinctively seek out different experiences and cultures and always be open-minded about those who are different than themselves.
I’ve found that it’s so easy to get caught up in the demands of everyday life and neglect the celebration of rituals and traditions that have been passed down in our families. I myself have a very long way to go in creating more experiences and learning opportunities for my own children. Yet each year, with the start of Spring and the celebration of NowRuz, I have a renewed optimism that I’m on the right track and that one day I’ll be blessed to witness my own grandchildren setting a Haft Sin table of their own or jumping over fire or candles. Maybe they will even be able to ask me for their Nowruz presents in Farsi! I’m grateful for how my parents raised me and the importance they placed on celebrating who I am and where I’ve come from.
I hope that by continuing to pass down the traditions that represent our combined backgrounds, my husband and I will raise our daughters to be just as proud of their unique and wonderful heritage.
Happy Spring and Happy NowRuz to all!
Prior to becoming a stay at home mom, Mina was an HR Recruiter for years. Now her time is spent happily juggling the demands of two young daughters while trying to expose them to the endless adventures the city has to offer.
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