In 2010, UN General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as International Nowruz Day, and placed Nowruz on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Nowruz is one of the oldest festivities in the world, estimated to be celebrated for over 3,000 years. Nowruz, which marks the Spring Equinox, is believed to have been incubated by Zoroastrians, an indigenous people who lived in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucuses, and the Middle East.
Throughout history, some rulers and conquerors unsuccessfully tried to eliminate Nowruz. Nowruz has persisted until the present day and is now widely celebrated every year by diverse communities including Iranians, Tajiks, Afghans, Kurds, Turkmens and Azeris.
Every year, at this time of the year, the blooming of tulips, the perfuming of hyacinths, and the singing of birds, undeniably announce the arrival of Spring. The arrival of Spring allows us to reflect on our connections with nature.
During Nowruz, which lasts for thirteen days, it is customary that people visit their relatives, friends, and neighbours. This is a perfect time to have a cup of tea and some Persian sweets, nurture relationships, renew friendships and let go of any past frictions that may have existed.
When guests visit one another, the ‘Haft Seen’ is on display. ‘Haft Seen’ literally means ‘Seven S’s’ in Farsi, and is the Nowruz spread of seven items that start with the Farsi letter “Seen” including apple, garlic, sumac, vinegar, oleaster, sprouted wheat and wheat pudding. These items represent values such as health, longevity, triumph of good over evil, love, nature and productivity, and affluence.
A focal point of the Haft Seen Spread is ‘Sabzeh’, a small tray of sprouted wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil which celebrates nature and productivity. Growing seeds in late winter is a reminder of an ancient practice which helped farmers select seed varieties and gain confidence in the upcoming season’s productivity.
Nowruz, which means “new day’, inspires us to leave the winter days behind, reconnect with both nature and community, and welcome the new year with confidence.
Shervin Shahriari is the author of ‘North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Neighbourhood’ (Arcadia, 2009) and a Langara Business Lecturer. He is the former Chair of North Shore Museum & Archives Commission and former Chair of North Vancouver City Library Board.