Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eide Shoma Mobarak! Happy New Year!

In our household we celebrate New Year’s three times a year (feeling a little jealous?). First, we have the traditional Western New Year based on the Gregorian Calendar which is, of course, January 1st. Second, we have the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which is in the fall, typically in September. Third, we have the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which takes place on the vernal (Spring) equinox. This year Nowruz falls on March 20 – this Saturday! Since it’s just around the corner, I’m going to explain some of the many fun and tasty traditions associated with Nowruz in the hope that you will get to enjoy this wonderful holiday too.

Nowruz means new (now) day (ruz), and the celebration includes a variety of events over the course of two weeks! Nowruz is not a religious holiday it is a Parsi/Persian festival with roots in Zoroastrianism, it is in large part a celebration of the new life (both plant and animal) that is ushered in during spring. Nowruz is celebrated in many different countries including: Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, Albania, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Serbia, and Uzbekistan.

Now I will take you through a few of the highlights of Nowruz!

It is important to note that in the days and weeks leading up to Nowruz Persians do an intense spring cleaning (e.g. beating the dust of their rugs, flipping the mattresses on their beds, dusting every nook and cranny). While this is definitely the least fun part of Nowruz, it is an important part of having a fresh start in the New Year.

The first main Nowruz event occurs on the evening of the last Wednesday of the “old” year. This event is called Chaharshanbeh Suri, which means Red Wednesday. It is a celebration of light, during this event individuals light large bon fires and jump over them while singing zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man. The literal translation is, my sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red color is mine. Hence, the act is supposed to purify oneself. On this night Persians also wear disguises and go “trick or treating.” Rather than hording teeth rotting candy, they typically receive and give ajeel which is basically trail mix – dried fruits and nuts.

We had to make due with a candle in our living room, since we're pretty sure our apartment managers wouldn’t like us starting a bon fire. We also skipped the trick or treating (because it probably would go very well if we showed up at some American’s door in a disguise and asked for trail mix), but we bought ourselves some ajeel to munch on!

Nowruz itself takes place on the vernal equinox (changes every year – typically sometime in March or April), it begins on the exact moment of the equinox (like 12am on January 1st). At this time the whole family dresses in their best clothing (it’s the time to put your best foot forward, setting the stage for the year to come) and gathers around the Haft-Sin table. Haft-sin means Seven Ss – the table displays seven items that all begin with S. Each of the items symbolizes something everyone wishes for in the New Year:
1)Sabzeh (green wheatgrass) – symbolizes rebirth
2)Sir (Garlic) – symbolizes health
3)Seeb (Apple) – symbolizes beauty
4)Sumac (a sour and salty spice) – symbolizes the sunrise (because of the red color)
5)Serkeh (Vinegar) – symbolizes patience
6)Samanu (a sweet wheat paste) – symbolizes wealth
7)Senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree) – symbolizes love

Other items often included on the haft-sin table include (we had all of these!):
•sonbol (Hyacinth) – which signals the coming of Spring (and it smells so wonderful!)
•sekkeh (coins) – symbolizes wealth
•decorated eggs (like Easter eggs) - symbolizes fertility
•a mirror – for reflection
•a candle – for enlightenment
•sugar – for sweetness
•a copy of the national Persian epic the Shanameh

We did our best with the seven Ss, but samanu and senjed didn’t make it onto our table this year. They are impossible to come by in Indiana!

During Nowruz Persians also get their party-on with lots of singing and dancing. If you live in a fairly large city there are likely to be large Nowruz parties open to the public that include a meal, music and dancing (you will have to pay for a ticket). I have attended the annual party hosted by Purdue’s Iranian Culture Club several times (and horrified all of the Persians with my white girl dance moves).

Of course food is also important on Nowruz, and how could this post make it onto our blog without some discussion of grub! The traditional meal for Nowruz is Mahi va Sabzi Polo (White Fish with Herbed Rice), another common Nowruz dish is sabzi kuku (an herb soufflé/omelet). In general, herbs/greens (sabzi) are very common in Nowruz dishes because they symbolize rebirth, new life.

We are having a slightly non-traditional meal inspired by the classic: blackened catfish (it is white, right?), rice with dill and lima beans (fava beans would be more traditional), and sautéed swiss chard. At the end of this post I’ve included our recipe for blackened catfish. Here is a link with recipes for traditional Nowruz fare.

For the two weeks following Nowruz, schools are often closed. During this time families and friends visit with one another, giving each other sweet treats and they often give children crisp new money. I thinking we should bring both of these traditions to America!

One more tradition, on the thirteenth day of the new year Persians celebrate Sizdeh-Be-Dar, which means thirteen in the outdoors. On Sizdeh-Be-Dar families have lavish picnics and spend the day outdoors enjoying the newly arrived Spring.

This holiday has so many fun things associated with it! I hope you’ll get to take part in some of the festivities! Eide Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year)!

Blackened Catfish:

1 Large (6-8oz) fillet for each person
11/2 to 2 teaspoons of Blackened Seasoning per fillet
Olive Oil

Blackened Seasoning (enough for 3-4 servings):
¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (more if you want it hot hot hot)
1 teaspoon Oregano
½ teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Paprika
½ teaspoon Chili Powder
½ teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
½ teaspoon Onion Powder
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
½ teaspoon Salt

Wash the fish thoroughly, pat dry with paper towel. Drizzle the fillets lightly with olive oil, make sure they are all lightly coated. Sprinkle approximately 1 teaspoon of seasoning on each side of the filets and rub it in gently. Put the fillets in a single layer in a baking dish. Cook in an oven preheated to 500 degrees, cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and cook an additional 10-15 minutes until the fillets are firm and flake easily.

Best served with basmati rice steamed with fresh herbs (dill, parsley, leeks, etc.).

Nooshe Jan (Bon appetite!)

*By the way my camera has pretty much bit the dust, so I had to use the camera on my phone to take these pics :(.


  1. Bravo! What a great blog on Nowruz!
    Eide Shoma Mobarak ham chenin! ;~))
    Thank you,

    Fereydoon Fred Delshad

    BTW,...your cousin (my brother), Jimmy Delshad (Persian: جیمی دلشاد), became the Mayor of Beverly Hills for the second term on 3/16/10:

  2. Khaley mamnoon ghorboon a shoma Fred! Congratulations to Jimmy too!