Monday, March 20th, marks the grand festival of Nowruz. On this day, Iranians usher in the Persian New Year at the exact moment of the vernal equinox which marks the start of spring.
Being originally a festival of Persian origin, Nowruz is also celebrated by hundreds of millions of people from other ethno-linguistic groups in a dozen countries.
Nowruz is widely celebrated in Iran’s neighboring countries Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey. It is also observed by communities in countries as far away as Georgia, Albania, Kosovo, China and India.
Nowruz festivities last for two weeks and are preceded by “Chaharshanbeh Suri” or the Festival of Fire during which people make bonfires and jump over them. The symbolic tradition is meant to trade one’s ailments and problems with the flames’ warmth, energy and power of life.
The Persian New Year comes with its own special rituals. Families take advantage of the two-week holidays to join together for house visits and outdoor fun events.
One of the special observances of the occasion is the table setting known as Haft Sin, which means the seven S’s in Persian. The table features seven items all of which start with the letter S in Persian. Families gather around the table and pray while waiting for the exact moment of the spring equinox. These symbolic items represent health, prosperity, longevity, reproduction and happiness for the family members throughout the year.
One of the customs of Nowruz is to exchange house visits during which guests are served tea, pastries, nuts and fruits. People also exchange gifts and money to congratulate each other on the advent of the New Year.
Literally translated into New Day, Nowruz is the first day of the Iranian solar calendar.
The UN's General Assembly recognized the International Day of Nowruz in 2010, describing it as a spring festival of Iranian origin, which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. Also in 2009, Nowruz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Nowruz festivities culminate in Sizdebedar, the last day of the holidays which falls on the 13th day of the New Year. This is a day that has to be spent outdoors. Families leave their houses for picnics, outdoor games and strolls in nature.