Nowruz - a Quick Overview
|Spring in the mountain valleys|
Nowruz, the Iranian* and Zoroastrian New Year's day, is celebrated on March 21st - the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. It is also the first day of the Zoroastrian Khorshidi (solar) year. [Also see Pateti - Parsi New Year's Eve and the Zoroastrian calendar.] [Note*: Nowruz is sometimes called the 'Persian New Year' where 'Persian' is taken to mean 'Iranian'.]
Renewal: As winter gives way to spring, as darkness gives way to light, and as dormant plants burst into blossom, Nowruz is a time of renewal, hope and joy.
The theme of renewal is an important aspect of the customs surrounding Nowruz - personal renewal, a renewal of friendships and a renewal of the home.
Spring Cleaning: In the month leading up to New Year's day, homes undergo thorough spring cleaning and preparations are made to set up a Nowruz table. The rites of spring cleaning or Khaneh-Tekani are discussed further on page 2.
The Nowruz Spread or Table: The Nowruz spread has a significance to Nowruz in the way a Christmas tree has to Christmas.
The spread (often on a table) contains seven items whose names begin with "s" or "sh" - depending on the tradition being followed. Included in the spread are freshly sprouted grains as a symbol of renewal and growth. See page 3 for an illustrated description of the Nowruz table.
Gifts: Parents often give their children new clothes and other items (sometimes money in an envelope) as gifts.
New Year's Greetings in Persian
In Persian or Farsi, 'now' means new and 'ruz' means day. Various alternative spellings and pronunciations are noted below on this page.
Greetings that use Persian words are:
'Nowruz Piruz'. Piruz means victorious or successful.
'Nowruz Khojasteh Baad'. Khojasteh means auspicious.
'Sol-e Now Khojasteh Baad'. Sol or sal means 'year', 'now' means 'new'.
Two common forms of felicitations used to wish a Happy New Year: 'Nowruz Mubarak' and 'Sol-e Now Mubarak', meaning 'New Day Felicitations' use an Arabic word 'mubarak'.
The first three months of the Iranian calendar are the months of spring, the next three summer, the next three fall, and the final three months are the winter months. Nowruz celebrates the coming of spring and a fresh start to a new year.
The Significance and Symbolism of Nowruz
Nowruz as a Cultural Festival
|Map of Central Asia|
Nowruz is celebrated as a secular, cultural festival by the people of Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, as well as the Kurdistan regions of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Syria and Georgia - the modern states or regions that were part of the ancient Iranian federation or Persian empire.
In addition, Nowruz is celebrated by Baha'is and Ismailis - groups whose religions have Iranian roots. The United Nations have also declared March 21 as International Day of Nowruz.
Today, most of the countries or regions listed above have majority Muslim or Christian populations - religions with roots outside the region.
|Kurds celebrate Nowruz|
While these populations have maintained the celebration of Nowruz as a cultural festival, one religious group native to the region - and with very old roots that precede the advent of Islam and Christianity - celebrates Nowruz for both cultural and religious reasons (comparable to the way many Christians celebrate Christmas). These are the Zoroastrians.
After the Arab invasion, while most in the region converted to Islam, a small number of determined Zoroastrians maintained their ancient faith, despite significant pressures. Only about 20,000 openly practicing Zoroastrians remain in Iran (with another 100,000 dispersed in India and elsewhere). This miniscule group of survivors, tenuously hold on to their ancestral beliefs, traditions and customs - such as the manner in which they celebrate Nowruz.
Is Nowruz an Iranian or Persian New Year?
[For the differences between Iran and Persia, see our page, Iran and Persia, Are They the Same?. In short, Iran consisted of various kingdoms and at one time in history Persia became the dominant kingdom.]
The observance of the spring equinox as the start of the New Year, Nowruz, was an ancient Iranian festival, started at a time that Persia had not yet emerged as a kingdom. The coming of spring after a cold, bleak winter had more significance in the fertile mountainous river valleys regions of present-day northern Iran and Central Asia, than it did in the warmer southern regions.
As the geography and boundaries of Iran changed, Nowruz became the start of the new year for all nations or kingdoms that were part of the greater Iranian federation. This included the Medes and the Persians who respectively came to inhabit the Western and Southern regions of an expanded Iranian group of nations or kingdoms.
Correctly speaking therefore, Nowruz is the Iranian New Year. Today the names Persian and Iranian are freely interchanged without the original distinctions, perhaps because the Greeks used Persia to describe all of Iran (in the same way some call Britain, England). For our purposes, we will try and maintain the distinctions.
Nowruz as a Zoroastrian Festival
|Ancient motifs in a Nowruz collage|
For Zoroastrians - today's adherents of the region's ancient religion - Nowruz is the most significant day in the Zoroastrian calendar. The day is rich in symbolism.
As nature renews itself and overcomes the harshness of winter, so can there be renewal in different aspects of life: one's personal life, interpersonal relations, the home, and the community. Personal renewal includes spiritual renewal as well as forming or reaffirming pledges and goals for the new year.
The symbolism of renewal extends to a future universal and enduring renovation of this world. This renovation will be accompanied by the resurrection of righteous souls - an event called frasho-kereti (frashigird) in Zoroastrian religious texts. The task of human beings is to continually seek improvement and excellence, until that excellence becomes enduring.
Further, as the hours of daylight grow and the hours of darkness diminish until at spring daylight begins to exceed darkness, so will the light of wisdom and righteousness increase until it prevails over the darkness of ignorance and malice. While good thoughts and good words assist in the process, good deeds assist in far greater measure. Nowruz is therefore a reminder that improvement requires action, effort and diligence. The customs of Nowruz invariably remind a Zoroastrian of her or his mission in life.
Zoroastrians also call Nowruz, Jamshedi Nowruz, attributing the origins of the festival to legendary Pishdadian King Jamshid of prehistoric Iran. The legend is contained in the poet Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, an Iranian epic.
The Middle Persian texts, the Dinkard, or Acts of Religion state: "The commencement of the year has been fixed by great kings as the first day of the year from the beginning of creation. On this glorious day, from the times of the ancient Pishdadians onwards, people of all countries have observed have Nowruz, or New Year's day. They celebrate this Jashan (festival and feast) with joy and happiness. For working people, it is a period of rest, comfort and holiday. It is a time for restoration, and renewal." "The weak and frail find relief from hard labour and a new gift is conferred on the world." "During this period of rejoicing, large quantities of food are exchanged among the people." "People should resolve not to harm, but instead take care for animals." "People everywhere can benefit from the traditions surrounding this festival." (Dinkard 3, chapter 419)
Alternative Spellings and Pronunciations for Nowruz
The transliteration of the Persian and Parsi Gujerati word for the New Year take various forms: 'Now' is sometimes spelt and pronounced, no, nav and naw. Ruz is also sometimes spelt and pronounced rooz, roz and rouz. The two words are written separately, hyphenated or joined and written as one word.
Alternative spellings are (Google listings + New Year): Narooz (1,200), Nauroz (3,340), Nauruz (1,800), Nauryz (24,500), Navrez (528), Navroj (9,130), Navroz (8,360), Navruz (5,020), Nawris (248) Nawroz (9,940), Nawruz (78,100*), Naw-Ruz (15,100), Newroz (31,600), Nevruz (30,500), Newruz (1,720), Neyruz (508), Norooz (89,300*), Nooruz (1,030), Norouz (53,800), Noruz or No Ruz (77,200*), Novruz (19,300), Nowroj (413), Nowroz (4,360), Nowrouz (28,500), Nowruz (73,700*).
Top listings:, Norooz (89,300*), Nawruz (78,100*), Noruz or No Ruz (77,200*), Nowruz (73,700*).
Preparing for Nowruz
The month before Nowruz is a time of continuous preparatory activity and Nowruz marks the culmination of a five-day communal get-together and feast called a Gahambar - both the subject of the next page.
Nowruz pages banner art credit: Mahmoud Farshchian. See Wikipedia, Artist's Site, and Yazimhane blog
» Page 2: Pre-Nowruz Festivities and Observances
» Page 3: Nowruz Day Customs & Observances