Nicole Shahida

Celebrating No-Ruz: A Family Tradition


My husband and I have celebrated No-Ruz (the Persian New Year) for the last ten years. In harmony with the rebirth of nature, this two-week celebration always begins on the first day of spring. It is a time to clean the environment, cleanse the self, make or buy new clothes and bake pastries. It is time to light bonfires, have parties and a time to throw away the bad deeds from the year just passed.

It has only been in the last four years that the preparations for the No-Ruz have become a ritual in our home. It has become a ritual because we now have three children to share it with and they have become an important part of the festivities. In early March, on a Saturday or Sunday, we take the children to the local pet store where they each get to pick out their very own goldfish. These goldfish are just one of the many items which symbolize the Persian New Year celebration.

When we arrive at the pet store the children race to the back of the store where the goldfish are waiting to be picked. Our children spend a long time first watching the fish and then carefully selecting the one they want. Usually they pick the goldfish with unusual markings or colors. On our ride home we talk about the meaning of the goldfish and how this tradition is an important part of our heritage.

When we get home we place our new goldfish into a glass vase that has already been place at the haft-sinn (literally "seven dishes' setting," each one beginning with the Persian letter sinn). the seven dishes stand for the seven angelic heralds of life- rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience and beauty. They include: sabzeh, germinated sprouts; samanu, a wheat sprout; sib, apple; senjed, the sweet fruit of the lotus tree; seer, garlic; somaq; and serkeh, vinegar.

To set up the Haft-Sinn or ceremonial setting I place a beautiful piece of antique Persian cloth on my sideboard in my dinning room. I have set out the "seven dishes" along with a copy of the Koran, a few coins and some painted eggs. There is also a mirror, a hyacinth plant and some candles. All of these items have symbolic meanings, representing rebirth and goodness. Now the children are able to bring the goldfish, which represents life to join the food items in the haft-sinn

Another important ritual which is associated with the Persian New Year and that our children partake in is the growing of the germinated sprouts, which represent rebirth. In early March, we begin to grow the sprouts that also need to be placed at the haft-sinn. My two eldest children pour out a bag of lentils onto a large flat platter. They spread the seed out so that there are about two layers of lentils. Then they place a damp cloth over the seeds and place the platter in a cool protected area in our kitchen. It is their job to check the towel each day for about one week and make sure that it is always damp. After about one week they can remove the towel if they have started to see the lentils sprout. They are responsible for watering the sprouts every day so that they remain moist. It takes about two weeks for the lentils to grow about four-five inches tall which is about as tall as they will get. At this point we tie a colorful ribbon around the entire bunch and then place the platter alongside the other items in the Haft-Sinn.

Celebrating the Persian New Year has become a very important tradition in our family because it is a link to our family's heritage and helps our children connect with a way of life that is both faraway and very different from our own. It is also a connection that we have within our own family and also with the families in our extended Persian community. It will always be a part of our lives and hopefully our children will one day teach their children about the wonderful tradition of No-Ruz.