Origin and history of Nowruz in Iranian culture

Generally, in the history of each country there is a special day, which in historical, civilizational and cultural aspects, is considered to be the national day of that country and all nations celebrate that day according to their special traditions and customs.


In the history of Iran with its old civilization, Nowruz is among the most important cultural occasions, coming into the rank of the ancient and significant holidays of the Iranian nation. It falls on the first day of the Islamic solar calendar, on the 1st day of  Farvardin, which corresponds to the 21st of March in Christian Calendar, or the first day of spring according to the Iranian astronomical calendar.

According to the most ancient Persian book „Avesta“ Nowruz emerged in the era of the reign of the fourth Iranian sultan Jamshid. In one of the legends in it he describes how Jamshid starts a battle with Ahriman, causing droughts, famine, misery and misfortune and having defeated him restores the joy and prosperity among the people who call this day Nowruz - New day. It becomes an eternal holiday for all Iranians.

In other historical texts, however, Kiumars (The first king in the book of Shahnameh by Ferdowsi) is the founder of Nowruz. According to third sources Babylonians and Zoroastrians are considered founders of Nowruz.

One of the reasons for celebrating Nowruz was the belief that God has finished his work on the creation of man and other creatures on the first day of  Farvardin, so people expressed their gratitude and reverence to the Almighty and his grace by jubilation and prayer. 

Iranians who before the advent of Islam in their lands were predominantly Zoroastrians, believe that Zoroaster was born and contacted God precisely on this holy day 650 years BC. That is why this day is honored by them.

Many stories are told about Nowruz, but it is clear that the holiday occured three millennia ago and is accepted as the most ancient national custom in the world. It is preceded by the smaller Chaharshanbeh Suri, ending with Sizdah Bedar and its symbol is a traditional gathering around the table called Sofre Haft Sin.

Researchers agree that the stone inscriptions and statues from the era of Achaemenid in Iran found in Persepolis - the capital of Achaemenid Empire, fully attest to the related Nowruz ceremonies and customs. Cyrus the great, During the period of his reign, beginning in 538 BC, declared Nowruz as the national holiday. In the Parthian and Sassanid’s reigns, Nowruz remained as a national festival as well.

After the advent of Islam and the symbiosis between Islamic culture and Iranian traditions, scholars mixed Nowruz with Islamic customs, thereby its solemnity was reinforced. For example, in one of the Hadith of Imam Jafar Sadiq (the sixth Shia Imam), Nowruz is interpreted as a happy, blessed day, during which His Excellency the Man was created.

Customs and Traditions Associated with Nowruz

One of ancient Nowruz tradition is with the approaching of the holiday to choose a group of people, called „Haji Firuz“, who paint their faces in black, dress in a colorful manner and wearing hats, walk on the streets. They sing songs and recite joyful poems. Collecting donations in all settlements in order to assist the poor and needy is also among the traditions of  Nowruz.

„Khanetekani -  basic cleaning of the house is a different holiday custom that is relevant today. People sweep their homes and thoroughly clean the furniture. Before the holiday Iranians buy new clothes and try to banish hatred of the past from their hearts. They prepare “Sofre Haft Sin” at home and put on it dishes which names start by the 15th Persian letter of  „S“ pronounces „Sin“. 

The seven Sins „Haft Sin“ are sumac, garlic, senjed, wheat germ dessert, apple, vinegar and grain sprouts. On the table there are also the Quran, a candle, a coin and painted egg.

Each of the seven selected „Sin“ has its own meaning: for example, the Apple is a symbol of beauty and health, senjed shows love and tenderness, and the coin is the symbol of maturity and daily bread. Growing sprouted grains is also an old tradition of ancient Iran. A few days before Nowruz Iranians also grew on clay columns grains of  wheat, barley, rice, beans, lentils, millet, sesame, chickpeas, broad beans, corn and vetch, so according to the growth of every type of seed, they predicted the future harvest. Nowadays 15 days before Nowrus grains of wheat, lentils and watercress are left to germinate.

In addition, preparing the dish of  „Samanu“ whose main ingredient is wheat germ is common for the feast of  Nowruz. Another popular dish of Nowruz is rice with fish and vegetables.

On the eve of the new year's holiday all family members gather around Sofre Haft Sin. According to a popular belief, all family members should look in the mirror at the time of Nowruz, and then the oldest, picks up the Koran and reads from it. Before the advent of the New Year, the whole family makes good wishes for each other and whispers a prayer. After the first minutes of Nowruz, celebrated with a cannon salute, older family members give presents to the young who have come to visit them. In ancient times it was a tradition to eat „Reshte Polo“ (boiled rice with vermicelli). It was believed that in such a way the things will not go out of control and everything will run smoothly until the end of the year.

Today Nowruz is celebrated in various ways in different countries with common historical and cultural roots with Iran. Among them are some Balkan countries, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and even Zanzibar (now Tanzania), where in past centuries there were large groups of Iranian immigrants.

The report of Mr. Mohammad Ali Kiani, Cultural Affairs Advisor at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Bulgaria was presented at the roundtable Novruz - a celebration of a new beginning“, organized by Association Spectrum 21“ together with the Union of Bulgarian Journalists and with the media partnership of Diplomatic spectrum“ magazine.

Photos courtesy of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Bulgaria.