“No-Rooz” and “Haft-Seen” – The ancient knowledge has been lost but the ancient culture still exists. The Iranians, although they no longer recognize the difference, have to this day knowingly or
unknowingly preserved two different words for the New Year, that is No-Rooz (New
Day) and Sal-e-No (New Year). The Dari language, which, is the reminiscent of the
ancient dialects and is spoken by the present day Zoroastrians of Yazd, commonly say
‘Sal-e-no’, meaning New Year.
In ancient times every year on the vernal equinox in spring, the Iranians celebrated Sal-eNo – The New Year, but once in a few centuries they also celebrated No-Rooz, the NEW
DAY. It was based on their knowledge that the time taken by the earth to revolve around
the sun involved a fraction when calculated in terms of the earth’s rotation round its axis
They were aware that the 365 days a year and the extra day (leap year) once in four year
would still total up in fractions. Further their calculations showed them that the vernal
equinox would repeatedly coincide with sunrise at a particular longitude although once in
a few centuries. Whenever this event in nature occurred in their kingdom they celebrated
it as No-Rooz. By taking this event in nature as the start of the Year, in that particular
year a natural adjustment would have also been made, setting the calendar to zero
difference. As recorded in history on the spring equinox of 487 BCE No-Rooz was
celebrated at Takth-e Jamshid -Parse or Persepolis- when the first days of the rising sun
lighted the square stone set in the central hall of the palace, for that was the place chosen
on earth where the sunrise would coincide with the equinox and set the calendar to zero.
Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the New Year,
they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major
part of New Year rituals is setting the “Haft Seen” with seven specific items. In ancient
times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy
immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept
their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter “S”; this was not the order in
ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke
(vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke
(coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian
spice). Zoroastrians today do not have the seven “S”s but they have the ritual of growing
seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their sprouting
into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.
Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the
New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept
until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few
live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days
they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors
are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. Most of the people used to
place Qoran on their Sofreh (spread) in order to bless the New Year. But some people
found another alternative and replaced it by the Divan-e Hafez (poetry book of
Hefez), and during “Saal Tahvil” reading some verses from it was popular. Nowadays, a
great number of Iranians are placing Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings) of Ferdowsi on
their spread as an Iranian national book. They believe that Shahnameh has more Iranian
identity values and spirits, and is much suitable for this ancient celebration.
After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new
year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins),
usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older
members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets,
special meals and “Aajil” (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet
stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most
Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and
served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with
eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is
served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.
No-Rooz Mobarak (Happy No-Rooz, Happy New Year);
Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to you);
No-Rooz Pirooz (Wishing you a Prosperous New Year);
Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years).
With a view to the fact that in the near past seven trays were placed with any number of
items in them, and these days we have seven items starting with Sheen or Seen, and the
bas-relief’s at Takht-e Jamshid (Persipolis) depict seven people from each country
carrying No-Rooz gifts, shows the importance of SEVEN.
The real significance of seven was to represent the “Seven Eternal Laws”, which
embodies the Teachings of Zarathushtra. It was a way of preserving and a reminder of
the teachings of Zarathushtra.
The ancient meaning of the “Seven Eternal Laws” in summary form is as under:
VOHU MANA -Good Mind- The mind, wisdom, should be used in a Good way and
each one to their maximum capacity.
ASHA VAHISTA -The Ultimate Truth- Using the mind in a Good way and to its
maximum, results in the understanding of the natural laws and we end up with good
knowledge, good discoveries, and good inventions.
KHASH ATRA VAIRYA -Good Guidance- The information, the truth, the discoveries,
what do we do with them? We have to use them to make life better, by giving Good
Guidance, making Good Rules and Good Laws. That would also lead to Good Products
and Good Services.
SPENTA ARMAITI -Lawful Desire- The result of Khash atra vairya is Righteousness,
a Righteous Society, a Righteous Nation, and a Paradise where people live in harmony
with each other and with nature. Where there is No war, No pollution, No sickness, No lies, No thefts, and No fear. Where all DESIRES is LAWFUL.
HAURVATATA -Perfection- in such a Righteous Society people have a chance to
advance Mentally, Physically and Spiritually. The result is PERFECTION. Perfect doctors, perfect engineers, perfect musicians, perfect farmers, perfect poets, perfect athletes, perfect priests, perfection in all fields physically and spiritually.
AMERETAT -Immortality- Perfection creates a mental stage in human life where one is
Free from the Fear of Death, free from the fear of the unknown. Thereby one does not
belong to the material world but to a timeless, space less state of mind where death has
Having attained Perfection and lost the sense of fear, the final and seventh stage is
attained. One understands and becomes one with the Wisdom in Creation, MAZDA
AHURA, the Power, the living Wisdom, the active, creative, expanding Force that keeps
the universe in action and chain reaction, and the Creator of this Wisdom AHURA
The celebration itself begins on the stroke of the clock indicating the time of the equinox
and lasts for the next 21 days. To begin with, a fire or a lamp, or a candle is lit; prayers
are said and the members of the family sitting round the table greet each other by
sprinkling rose water and showing each other a mirror. Usually they say, ‘May you be as
fragrant as the rose and as bright as the mirror.’ Then the elders give the others members
of the family their blessings and gifts. With view to the fact that the equinox is at
different hours of the day each year, the sequence of programs may differ. In any case, at
the next appropriate moment, a visit is paid to the Temple where prayers are recited and
then a visit is made to the house of the elders in the family, where usually the kids get
their gifts. Zarathushties believed in enjoyment and making the best of life and any and
every occasion was taken advantage of, thus visiting friends and family, parties and
function continue for the first 13 days of the New Year.
Source: IRAN ALMANAC & The Book of Facts _ Researcher, Editor: Farjam Behnam