Come March in LA, you will have a hard time finding a goldfish in a pet store (more on this later). But why, you ask? Because it is Nowruz.
Nowruz, which means “new day” in Farsi, falls on the first day of spring and is when Persians celebrate the new year.
Growing up, Nowruz was like a second Christmas to me. It meant getting dressed up in new clothes, going to the homes of every relative, eating copious amounts of food, and receiving crisp dollar bills fresh from my own personal “Bank of Elders.”
At the time, when all I wanted was to be white, Nowruz was the only Persian holiday that I proudly talked about. But much to my dismay, none of my friends at the time understood, nor cared about the holiday that was so dear to my heart.
Fast forward a few years and Southern California streets are now adorned with “Happy Nowruz” flags and banners, parades are held from coast to coast, and in 2010 the UN officially identified “Nowruz Day” a holiday.
Its recognition notes that the celebration is an “affirmation of life in harmony with nature, the awareness of the inseparable link between constructive labour and natural cycles of renewal and the solicitous and respectful attitude towards natural sources of life.”
This can be found in the decorations that adorn Nowruz celebrators homes called a “Haft-Seen.” A “Haft-Seen” is made up of seven symbolic items that begin with an “s” in Farsi and that represent the hopes of prosperity and health that will carry us into the new year. These items are:
1 | Seeb: apples, which represent beauty;
2 | Seer: garlic, which represents good health;
3 | Serkeh: vinegar, which represents patience;
4 | Sonbol: hyacinth, which represents spring;
5 | Samanu: sweet pudding, which represents affluence;
6 | Sabzeh: sprouts, which represent rebirth;
7 | Sekkeh: coins, which represent prosperity.
Some families add a book of poetry from Hafez, a small mirror and candles (reflecting into the future), painted eggs which represent fertility and a goldfish which represents life.
After continual celebrations, on the 13th day — a day that is considered unlucky in Iranian culture — celebrations end as families emerge to go into nature and dump sprouts into the river, symbolizing the release of misfortune.
While these festivities and traditions of the Zoroastrian nature are most commonly celebrated by Iranians, Afghans, Albanians and Turks, at its essence, anyone regardless of race, gender or religious denomination can (and should) celebrate Nowruz.
Iranian author, Firoozeh Dumas writes, “Here is a holiday that asks only one thing of you — to have hope. It has been around for thousands of years. There is no controversy associated with Nowruz. No indigenous people were displaced, no wars were fought, and no one died for us to have this celebration. Unless winter comes up with some sordid revelation about spring, we are in the clear… who is going to argue with a religion whose maxim is ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds?’”
So today, even if you have no desire to celebrate with the rituals of Nowruz, take a moment to consider the meaning behind the traditions. You may just find yourself at a pet store buying the last goldfish in town.