Though you may not know it, today is New Year! for quite a substantial population of the world! Yeah! Today! (well, 23.20 PM GMT to be exact!). Its Norooz today, more commonly known as the Persian New Year! its Norooz, Reza is in Iran at home, and …, well, I’m still in Glasgow! It feels significant, and deeply depressing if I let it be; on the night before I left Tehran, Reza’s little niece sat on my lap, crying, wanting to know when I’d see her again. “Norooz”, I promised her. It felt real to do so “Insha Allah, I’ll be back for Norooz!”. That was our plan! We had calculated, (wrongly!), that by this time, Reza would probably just have received his documents. I would fly to Iran to meet him, celebrate Norooz, and we’d come back to the UK together, to commence the more conventional chapter of our longed-for married life! But Allah (SWT) had other plans! This year feels like a great big massive waste! Since our wedding, we have encountered nothing but delays; some of them are government generated delays; others are due to my lack of settled employment. In any case, we are still residing on opposite sides of the earth; and don’t seem to be even remotely closer to altering that situation! There doesn’t feel like much to celebrate; rather this day really seems to be accentuating my feelings of frustration and isolation!
Still, Reza is home; and our family are (sort-of), together! This does give me some comfort; my mother-in-law was quite ill earlier on this year, and we lived in a constant state of fear, that something awful would happen to her while none of us were around, even my brother-in-law was still away on his military service, and of course, SIL has her own kids and husband to take care of! Mashallah she came through it; and I know she will be comforted at least to have her sons around; (SIL and family have gone on a bit of a road trip this Norooz; its quite a break with Persian Tradition, but something they wanted to do; and it sounds like they are having a fantastic time!).
Norooz is a fascinating festival; incredibly ancient and full of unique/complex traditions. It is generally described as a Zoroastrian holiday, yet many scholars suggest its origins are even older than that!
Norooz is celebrated as the first day of spring. At the time of the equinox, the sun is directly above the equator, and the North and South Poles lay directly along the Solar terminator! This precise moment of Astrological harmony is calculated to the exact point each year, hence New Year today being at 11.20 PM! (3.20 in the morning in Iran).
This is not just an Iranian Festival either! The cross-fertilisation and spread of ancient Empires means that Norooz today is celebrated in Afghanistan, parts of India/Pakistan, as well as the Crimea, the caucuses, North-Western China and of course, wherever the Diaspora have settled beyond their countries of origin! Following the Iranian Revolution, moves were made to abolish the festival due to its pagan routes, however these were met with mass opposition and incredibly, the holiday has survived, in tact and celebrated by all! Before the Iranian connection even entered my world, I noticed sections of the south-Asian Shia Community; celebrating Norooz as being the moment when Imam Ali (A.S) extended his finger to lengthen the duration of the sunlight, however I’ve never found any hadaith or other evidence to support this belief; and am not too sure where it came from! There is so much to say about Norooz; its origins and traditions around the world; and if you are interested, its well worth a bit of google time! For now though, I thought I’d write a bit about the festivities going on in our house (which of course, I’m sadly observing from a distance!).
Most people start cleaning the house (translated as shaking the house in Persian), around a month before New Year comes in! We begged mum not to do this given her poor health; but there was no shifting her! Reza told me that there are new rugs in the sitting room, and some of our wedding pictures have been framed in silver and hung around the walls! Clean sheets cover the beds and chairs; and every one has a new outfit to wear for the first day (not THE day however; Norooz celebrations span a whopping 13 days in total!). While mum was cleaning, baba was busy cultivating bulbs and fragrant flowers in the large gardens beneath our apartment; and now, those flowers fill each and every corner of the house; spreading their scent through the walls and beyond. Colourful metal jars of espand burn and create harmony; removing any traces of ‘Nazr (or the evil eye) from the house and its inhabitants. Cooking has been in full swing as well! Despite the fact that the house will be laden with fruits, nuts and other bakery delights; mum insists in making many of her own specialties for the family and visitors to enjoy while they make the New Year rounds! Formal rituals began last Tuesday night, with the Chaharshanbe Suri (or ‘fire jumping). Family members, usually the young men and children, build small fires in the streets or Alleys which they jump over, symbolising the abandonment of the old that is absorbed by the fire, and a progression towards the new. This reminded me of the Hindu ‘Havan/yagna, something I always felt great affinity with and derived great strength from performing. Also on this night, it is believed that departed spirits of ancestors visit the homes of their living relatives. Children often dress up as ghosts draped in white, and run through the streets knocking on doors, looking for treats! (rather like the ‘Halloween celebrated in the West!). As they go, they bang on pots; the noise is believed to banish evil spirits from entering the homes as the New Year approaches.
There are some other interesting rituals on this night, including the breaking of earthen pots, symbolising the breaking of the old, to make way for the new; and a tradition that involves ascertaining one’s New Year fortune from the conversations of those passing by, (similar to the way in which many Iranians open the famous books of poetry, such as Hafez, when looking for an answer or an inspiration at a time of need). None of these are really practised by our family though; they have doubtless been deemed as too much of a departure from Islamic beliefs! Perhaps they are, but for me, the symbolism is incredibly powerful; we honour the flag of Imam Hussain (A.S), though we do not worship it, the physical connection directly relates to the spiritual relationship between the Imam (A.S) and his faithful. Similarly, the physical acts relating to moving on to a New Year, strike me as very healing in many ways; and perhaps, if we had such traditions over here, I’d feel allot better about the New Year concept!
Now for New Year’s day (or night; in this case!). A table is prepared and decorated (rather like the sufrah agt you’ll recall from my niqah!). The table must contain 7 items that resemble the 7 elements; earth, wind, fire, water, plants, animals and humans. The table is spread with a soft green cloth, upon which the following are placed: Green sprouts which are stored to grow in a jar during the days of New Year (If you Follow the America Nepali blog, you’ll remember reading about a similar practise during one of the festivals), Samanu (a sweet pudding made from wheat) (which I really don’t’ like!), • senjed - the dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love.
Garlic is also added, symbolising medicine, joined by green apples, representing Health. Somaq; (or dried berries), in honour of the colour of sunrise. Finally, vinegar (representing age, and patience!), (and this strikes a chord; I had allot of patience with vinegar in Iran; all pickle there is vinegar based, something I just didn’t like and couldn’t get used to!).
In addition, the fragrant flowers are usually also placed there, along with a copy of the qur’an, and a copy of Hafez! A mirror is included(symbolising truth), and some gold coins (symbolising hope/prayers for wealth in the coming year). Don’t worry though; there are always plenty of fruits, pastries and fine things to eat; its not all about cymbals! When the moment of the New Year comes upon the household; greetings are shared; and gifts are exchanged! After that, people will probably sleep tonight, (given the odd timing of the New Year coming in!). Tomorrow though, the rounds will begin; it is customary (rather compulsory!), to meet/greet all family members (from near and far), as well as friends, neighbours etc, during the 13 days of New Year! Given that we are both overseas, Reza will have a massive list to get through! He has his own visits to make, and I’ve added a few additional rounds for him this year in my absence (poor thing!). These visits are usually 20/30 minutes long (any thing longer and the rounds couldn’t be made!). Oh! And you never visit a house empty-handed; so a good supply of flowers, fruits and sweets are essential to distribute to the households! Things will be a bit different for our household this year; Reza’s cousin (on baba’s side), is getting married in the desert city of Kerman; so after a few days of home based festivities, every one will take the train over there, (and SIL’s road trip will conclude there too!). On the 13th day, families take to the parks; celebrating the New Birth of spring, and the beauty of nature. They make pick nicks and celebrate with friends; our family will probably take to the mountains bordering Northern Tehran, where we have a beautiful summer house and a wealth of green space to enjoy! The green sprouts which were planted on the first day of Norooz are taken out and dropped in to running water (again, taking away the old, to make way for the new blessings of the New Year. Unmarried women are advised to tie up the ends of the green shoots before throwing them; as an expression of their desire to be married before the end of the Year. Our family have adapted this tradition a little bit, and usually also prepare an ariz (letter to Imam Zaman ATF), which is wrapped in a flour/water mix and thrown in to the ocean as well (you don’t have to even begin to guess what I wrote in my letter this Year!). Once the 13th day is done; people return to work, and to their daily grind; Reza will return to work in Baku; and we both return to the drudgery that is immigration control; and finding a way to simply live together!
To all of my readers; those I know, and those I do not; if you are celebrating today, ‘eid/Norooz mubarak to you, your families and your dear ones from all of us here; and if you have never heard of Norooz in your life; (well, I’ve taught you something haven’t I!). At 11.20 tonight, I’ll offer 2 rakat of salat; and beg Allah (SWT) to bless my family, to forgive me my shortcomings in this year; and that whatever this new faze of life has in store for us, let it be better than that which has gone before; and if it is not better, at least let it be in union with my husband; hardships often cease to be hardships when you are united with the one you love!
May Allah (SWT) grant you all the good you ask of him on this day; and maybe, if you have a tiny corner; you might remember us in your New Year prayers too!