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New year, old meanings

by ELENA JOHNSON/Coeur Voice contributor
| March 20, 2021 1:00 AM

To most, the new year was ushered in long ago. Likewise, spring is fast becoming old news. The weather has slowly obliged with glimpses of early spring and the vernal equinox marked its official start last Sunday.

But for me, spring has only ever sprung today.

For Persians, and many others, today is Nowruz, the true first of spring and Day One of the new year. Although the usual celebrating will likely be toned down everywhere today, it still holds an air of hope.

Thanks to Zoroastrian traditions and its rich use of symbolism and meaning, the new year has traditionally been celebrated in spring – the ultimate period of rebirth, growth, and new life. As the buds bloom, the trees wake, and little ones come into the world, so the year begins again. In longer days of greater sunshine, it’s a little easier to think of those renewed prospects promised by a fresh beginning. No offense to January 1, but March 20 has a better air for change, and more daytime for actually accomplishing it.

Nowruz is a major holiday for Persians – and many others. In addition to feasting and partying on the day itself, it’s a time of reflection.

The Wednesday before the holiday (Chaharshanbesoori) is celebrated, traditionally, with a bonfire. To symbolically prepare yourself for the new year, you leap over the fire, letting all the things you hope to leave behind from the past year fall into the flames below. Just as you might plan to do better on January 1, you think of what you don’t want to carry with you by March 20. Like a baptism of fire – but infinitely more fun – the old and negative burns away and you’re a fresh slate again.

Persians love poetry, however, so the symbolism is far from done. We also decorate in the form of a haft-seen table. On the haft-seen table multiple objects are included, each with its own significance. There are many possible additions, but the more common ones include an apple (beauty), olive (love), garlic (health), vinegar (patience), sumac spice (the rising sun – or in our house, the natural spice of life), samanu sweet pudding (strength), and sabze plant (rebirth and growth).

Goldfish representing current life, flowers (particularly hyacinths) for beauty, coins for prosperity, a mirror for reflection are other typical inclusions. A book of wisdom, such as a holy book, or even poetry also make frequent appearances. Growing up, ours was always Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat, reminding us to drink deeply from the well of life in these brief, beautiful moments on Earth.

I told you, we like the poetic. But all the symbolic cultivation is basically just an old Persian tradition of centering yourself on the idea of “new year, new me”.

Haft-seen tables also tend to be beautiful, because honestly, we just like pretty things. Why set up a table for a few days or a month and not make it look good? Drink deeply from the beauty and enjoy it while you can. Plus, who wants to cultivate ugliness in their life? That’s asking for some ugly attitudes, ugly feelings, and ugly situations – more to dump in next year’s fire.

Visiting with family and friends today may be at a minimum. But fortunately we can cultivate our loves and relationships in other ways thanks to technology. And no one can stop us from feasting alone.

Whether you’re Persian, Afghani, Kurdish, one of the other groups with your own version of the holiday, or you’re completely new to the holiday, Nowruz moborak to you and your loved ones. May you drink deeply from a full well.