Experience the healing rituals of Novruz, or the Persian New Year, this Monday

Daffodils are a welcome sight at this time of year, as bright signs of life appear after months of dreary weather.

The new season also marks the start of a new year, known as Nowruz, which means “new day”, for Iranians and 300 million people around the world.

The Persian New Year falls exactly on the vernal equinox, which this year falls on a Monday at 2:24 pm PST. As a time of rebirth and renewal, the date makes much more sense than the West’s arbitrary choice of early January. But make no mistake, this is a far more complex, energizing, and healing holiday than just sipping champagne and flipping through a calendar.

Just ask Mickey Mouse. His delightful explanation, including but not limited to a questionable dance demonstration, shocked the world of the Iranian diaspora last week.

Navruz, also spelled Noruz, Nowruz, or Nowruz, is an ancient pagan holiday that, like the women’s freedom movement that swept Iran, transcends the country’s diverse ethnic, regional and religious make-up in a unifying tradition.

It is estimated to be around 3,000 years old and has its roots in Zoroastrianism, which predates Islam and Christianity. The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to downplay the secular holidays, but the much-loved status of Novruz has led to it becoming a public holiday anyway.

“It brings me to a global heritage or consciousness that is connected to mother earth,” said Hafez Modirzadeh, professor of music at San Francisco State University. “It connects us to a core part of ourselves. That’s why it’s so important today.”

This connection to indigenous and pagan roots brings healing that BayArea4Iran organizer Yasaman Afshar says is needed for a community processing the increasingly disturbing news coming from the homeland as massive protests erupted in September. One day it could be another execution of protesters, and the next it could be the mass poisoning of schoolgirls who have made crystal clear their rebellion against the regime.

“It’s hard to digest,” said Afshar, who was born in Iran. “There are so many people this Navruz who are not going to sit at the hilt with their families. We want to think about it. We want to remember them. We can’t just be angry. Nowruz is the perfect place to start.”

The hilt seen at Payman Salimpur’s home in Orinda is a special table setting that families display during Nowruz. | Liz Khafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Here’s how to celebrate

Iranians expect the celebration in different ways. To begin with, a month before Navruz, the complex process of spring cleaning, known as “khune takuni”, begins. The goal is to rid the house of every speck of dust and ward off the evil eye with incense. Once you’ve thrown away your old or unsuitable clothes, it’s customary to buy brand new clothes and debut them on the first day.

A couple of days before the equinox, it’s time to plant lentil sprouts known as “sabzeh”, the star of Nowruz’s key marker, known as “invisible”. It is a beautiful combination of “sevens” to bring health, wealth, love, patience and other positive elements in the new year, represented by items such as vinegar, dried sucker, apples, wheat germ pudding, garlic and a spice called sumac – all that start with the letter “s” in Farsi.

The spread is surrounded by fragrant spring flowers such as daffodils or hyacinths, a bowl of goldfish, a book of poetry or other sacred texts, a mirror decorated with eggs and Iranian sweets.

The Tuesday before Novruz is “charshanbe sur” when people jump over the fire to get rid of the negativity of the past year. In a pinch, candlelight hops are also great anti-aging, but flame jumping is where it reaches its full potential.

At the same time, repeat: “Zardeye man az to, sorkheye to az man,” which usually means “my yellowness (nuisance) for you, your redness (life) for me.”

Now everything is ready for Novruz itself. Gather around your family, count together and read a Persian poem. Young children receive crisp dollar bills and visit elders and other family members in their homes.

A group of artists paint on decorative Nowruz eggs in Tehran, Iran, on March 6, 2023. | Fatima Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

But that is not all! Keep the hilt in plain sight for 13 days, and on the last day, have a picnic in nature with friends and family, enjoy outdoor activities and dancing.

To celebrate with others in San Francisco, BayArea4Iran will celebrate with its own hilt and live music on Clarion Alley, which currently has a mural dedicated to the current movement in Iran.

San Francisco City Hall will also be hosting an exhibit on Friday, March 24 from noon to 3pm featuring Mayor Breed of London and Iran-born supervisor Asha Safai.

“Like in spring, now it is raining, something is happening and something is growing,” Afshar said. “We are growing and we will all flourish.”

Ida Mojadad can be reached in [email protected]

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