I love how the beginning of the New Year around the world is associated with the coming of light. January first follows closely after the winter solstice, bringing us reassurance that the days will finally begin to lengthen. The Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year comes when the second new moon after the winter solstice brings the first promise of spring. Light overcomes darkness with the triumph of the life-giving sun.
Now we’re saying Happy New Year again—to our Persian friends celebrating Nowruz this week! And what better time to greet the New Year than the first day of Spring, the vernal equinox when the days have just lengthened to the point where they equal and finally outlast the night and the hills are once again a bright shade of green? The exact calculation varies with your geographical location, which will be Friday, March 20, 2015, at 3:45 PM Los Angeles Time, so there is less than one day to go! To see the countdown and the times of arrival all over the world, go to www.7seen.com.
And while you’re there, look at the items on the page—the candles bringing light, the mirror for reflection, coins for prosperity, fertility and new life represented by sprouting wheat, colored eggs, bright flowers, a goldfish swimming in the water. Haft Seen tables are each different, yet each the same, rich with symbolism of the New Year, always including the haft seen, or seven items starting with S in Persian: sumac, senjed (fruit of the wild olive), seeb (apples), serkeh (vinegar), sir (garlic), samanu (wheat pudding) and sabzeh (sprouted wheat).
Explanations of the symbolism abound on line, for example garlic/ good health, so have some fun exploring “haft seen” on line or for a simple explanation go to http://cmes.hmdc.harvard.edu/files/NowruzCurriculumText.pdf . While you are on line, be sure to look up “haft seen” on Google Images to seen a beautiful variety of Haft-Seen displays. Better yet, see if you can find one in your neighborhood. We saw a lovely one this week at a Nowruz tea given by the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine. http://www.humanities.uci.edu/persianstudies/
My first memory of Nowruz goes back to 1955, to a chilly March evening in Shemran when our neighbors lit three small bonfires in their driveway and invited my family to join them in jumping over the fires. My parents were happy to come over and socialize. Soon we were all jumping and laughing and eating together. My father told me it had to do with purification and Zoroastrian traditions. My brother, who was only four, was a little afraid of the fire, but I was nine years old and thought it was a terrifically fun idea.
The two weeks of celebration that followed brought more surprises. Dancers coming to our house to remind us of the coming New Year, seeing the neighbors’ Haft-Seen table and setting up our own, hospitality and good food, all culminating with a whole day of picnicking with Persian and American friends from the University of Teheran, with samovars keeping the tea hot while we enjoyed games, music, and dancing and eating together under the trees.
This year I am remembering with a Haft-Seen table of my own, the first one I’ve had for years. I was prompted by the discovery of a glass fish among my Dad’s souvenirs when I was helping him move into assisted living in January. I hadn’t seen it since we left Iran, and it brought back memories of Nowruz celebrations of days gone by. I remember our friends had their gold fish in little glass fish like this one, which I hadn’t seen for fifty years.
The part that worried me most was the sabzeh, the sprouted wheat. I remember starting one once and leaving the seeds soaking in water too long, until a disgusting smell told me they had all spoiled. This year I was very careful to buy the right seed and find a good set of instructions. It turned out to be very easy, following the directions on the Fig & Quince Blog http://figandquince.com/.
This year my wheat sprouted beautifully and continues to grow into a lush green miniature meadow. After 13 days, however, we are supposed to throw it into running water, which might be a problem here in California. In Shemran in the fifties there were jubes full of running water along every street. Here is a picture of my little brother throwing the sabzeh into the water. I recently asked him if he remembered this, and he said, oh yes, and all up and down the street other people were tossing theirs in too.
This leaves only the wheat pudding to master. If anyone knows an easy recipe, let me know! And in the meantime, Happy Nowruz, everyone! Enjoy the sunshine!