The arrival of Spring on March 20, 2003, the day of the Spring (Vernal) Equinox, heralds the beginning of a new year or Nowruz for communities in Australia, Europe, North America, India, Iran, Pakistan, and many other countries.
Nowuz in Persian means “New (year) Day.” Nowruz banishes the cold and dark of winter and ushers in the warmth and rejuvenation of spring. It shows mankind, their past and their future and represents life, health, and prosperity. It is rebirth and renewal at the same time, the celebration of continuity and tradition, and the evolution of a new path in life. It is the bridge between the old and new years and a symbolic victory of light over darkness.
The Zarathushtrian religion (Zoroastrianism) is one of the earliest monotheistic religions founded sometime around 1700 B.C.E. by prophet Zarathushtra, also known as Zoroaster. Zarathushtra preached that there was only one divinity, Ahura Mazda, as an embodiment of truthful order. He taught mankind the concepts of good and evil and emphasized the use of one’s “Good Mind.” Although the religion was the state religion of Persian empires stretching across central Asia for a thousand years, the current world-wide Zarathushtrian population is estimated at around 250,000.
According to the epic Persian poem, the ShahNameh, the tradition of Nowruz was created by King Jamshid. After a series of harsh and severe winters, King Jamshid celebrated the arrival of spring for his subjects with great abundance and joy and thus the celebration of Nowruz became an annual event. It is said that King Jamshid’s rule which lasted for several hundred years, was a glorious one of prosperity and happiness. Nowruz did not end with Jamshid’s passing, but rather was strengthened through the centuries to become the all encompassing and glorious celebration of rebirth and renewal that it is today. Zarathushtrian celebrations are closely linked to agricultural cycles and seasonal changes. In his timeless ecological message, Zarathushtra taught respect for Ahura Mazda’s creations (humans, animals, and plants) and elements (sun, earth, fire, and water) emphasizing the harmony between man and nature. Thousands of years later, this message is still relevant as we continue to recognize our environmental responsibility and the critical role we play as trustees of this precious earth.
Nowruz preparations start almost a month before the arrival of Spring. Each home is thoroughly cleaned and put in order. (Some Zarathushtrians believe that the souls of their departed family members visit them during this period and therefore the home is cleaned for their visit.) The symbolic items that represent spring and Nowruz are gathered for the Nowruz table, which is also known as the Haft-Seen table.
The table is covered with a white cloth, symbolizing purity and then decorated by the family members bringing different items to the table. Each item is symbolic and represents the good, purity, and strength of the religion. The mirror reflects the past while showing the future. The candles represent light, energy, and the giving of warmth to others. The incense gives us the fragrance of meditation and the goldfish represent life and activity. Wheat and barley seeds which have been sprouted for about ten days before Nowruz are placed on plates and represent the resurgence of life. Other items such as flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, coins, rose water, bread, various grains and painted eggs are all placed on the table. In addition, seven articles that start with the Persian letter “S” are also placed on the table. Each of these items represents peace, growth, shelter and security, prosperity, health, happiness, sweetness, and nourishment.
On the day of Nowruz, family members all dressed in their new clothes, gather around the table and await the arrival of spring. The head of the family recites some prayers from the Avesta/Quran/etc., and after the time has been announced by the T.V. or radio, families greet and wish each other “Nowruz Mubarak” (Happy Nowruz). Gifts are given to the younger members of the family and the family then sits down to a traditional Nowruz dinner. Visits to relatives, friends and neighbors begin the day after Nowruz and continue for two weeks symbolizing the renewal of friendship and the setting aside of old animosities for a fresh start.