Iranian New Year (Nouruz)
The greatest Iranian holiday, Nouruz (literally "new day"), is celebrated on March 20 or 21 and commemorates the entrance of the sun into the sign of Aries at the vernal equinox. The Iranians believe that Nouruz was instituted by King Jamshid; it is known for certain to have been celebrated for at least 2,500 years.
It is the only festival of ancient Persia that has not been displaced by Islamic holidays. The Iranians never fail to celebrate it, except when the movable lunar calendar of Islam causes some mourning ceremony to occur the same time. The medieval version of the holiday lasted a week, during which there was a general carnival with bonfires, acrobats, jugglers, masked games, and gift-giving. Todays Nouruz lasts two weeks. During this time, schools and businesses traditionally close and people spend their time visiting each other.
In the weeks before Nouruz, people start to buy new clothes and clean their houses from top to bottom. Hajji Firuz - a black - faced character in a red costume - appears in the streets to herald the approach of Nouruz. Nouruz is preceded by another ancient ceremony, Chaharshanbeh Suri (literally «Wednesday Fire"). It is celebrated on the Tuesday evening before the last Wednesday of the old year. On this night, people gather in the streets to jump over a fire for luck while chanting "Your redness (health) is mine; my paleness (pain) is yours". Groups of young men, their faces concealed by veils, go from door to door banging a spoon against a metal bowl asking for sweets or money. Another old and almost obsolete ritual is falgush ("fortune hearing"), when people try to guess the future by walking around in the street and treating any chance words they overhear as omens.
On Nouruz eve, families gather for a feast where the table includes haft sin, seven things whose names begin with the letter "S" in Persian. Today the seven Ss typically include sabzeh (home grown sprouts), samanu (the juice of crushed ears of green wheat), sib (apples) sonbol (hyacinth), senjed (jujube fruit), sir (garlic), and somagh (sumac).
In addition to the seven S's, there may also be the Koran, painted eggs, gold coins, a bowl with goldfish, a mirror, and candles. Each item symbolizes something; for example, the sprouts and samanu represent fertility and rebirth of spring, hyacinth symbolize beauty, apples and jujube bring sweetness, goldfish is a symbol of life, garlic and sumac represent health, coins bring prosperity, while candles are symbols of light and goodness. The traditional meal of this day is sabzi polo - a pilaf with green herbs, often served with fish. At the moment of the equinox, people kiss and exchange good wishes, and children are given gifts.
The 13th of Nouruz is called Sizdah-be-Dar ("Getting Rid of Thirteen"). On this day, people leave their houses and go picnicking in the country. At the end of the picnic, they throw their plateful of sabzeh into running water. The sabzeh is supposed to have collected all the sickness and ill fate that lurks in the path of the family throughout the coming year. Touching someone else's sabzeh on this day or bringing it home is therefore not a good idea because it may result in absorbing someone else's pain and hardship. Another meaningful ritual performed with the dumping of sabzeh is that young single women tie the sabzeh leaves prior to discarding it, symbolizing the wish to be tied in a marriage by the Sizdah-be- Dar of the next year.