Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Norouz at the United Nations

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 was the first day of Spring.  The following Tuesday, the Iranian mission to the UN and eight other central Asian countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) hosted a Norouz lunch and cultural event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  It was great to see so many countries putting on a great event together to share this beautiful piece of shared culture with the United Nations community.  Each country had a table with information about its particular celebrations for the holiday as well as food and sweets from that country.  There were also musicians that played from a classical Iranian musical group after the delegates made speeches and wished the attendees a happy new year.
Classical Iranian Music
For thousands of years, Iranians, and those in Central Asia influenced by Persian culture from the empire's spread thousands of years ago, celebrate spring's arrival in a holiday called Norouz.  Norouz literally translates as "new day" and has its roots from thousands of years ago in ancient Zoroastrianism.  It marks the beginning of the year on the Iranian (solar) calendar, so while it's 2014 in the USA, it's 1393 in Iran (Iran's calendar begins its years counting in 621 AD when Mohammad PBUH made the pilgrimage to Medina).  Every year except this year (on account of me being in Geneva), our family has been together to celebrate, even when I was in DC.  As we do not have as many relatives nearby, we take the opportunity each year to invite over different friends to join us in celebrating.  There are also shows each year put on by student organizations at the universities, like last year's 1392 celebration at Michigan.
Norouz is celebrated by over 300 million people around the globe and dates back more than 3,000 years.  Norouz is even recognized by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 253 (A/Res/64/253) and included on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  It's a great holiday and something my family celebrates every year (alongside our American traditional holidays), so I'll provide more of a description below.

The holiday celebrations last for thirteen days, although preparations begin before, including khaneh tekani - "shaking the house," otherwise known as "spring cleaning" - and chaharshanbeh soori.  Chaharshanbeh Soori takes place on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year (Tuesday night) and involves jumping over a fire while shouting, "sorkhie to az man va zardie man az to!" This chant asks the fire to give the jumper its healthy red color and take away the jumper's sickly yellow pallor.  The idea is to have the fire cleanse the jumper, removing all sickness and bad luck from the past year so that he or she can start fresh for the new year to come.  Unfortunately, I grew up in a city with too small an Iranian population, so we only ever celebrated this part of Norouz once - in a family friend's driveway at night jumping over a hay bale set ablaze.  Welcome to Michigan.

For the holiday itself, there are some traditional foods associated with the celebrations.  This typically means a bean and noodle soup (ash-e reshteh), fish with herbs and rice (mahie sabzeh), and desserts (think baklava and cardamom rice cookies).  However, the Iranian table switched it up and did chicken kubideh (ground meat kabobs) with rice and fessenjan (a chicken pomegranate dish).  The food was all still amazing.
Unconventional Haft Sin - everything was purple-themed
The biggest aspect of preparing for Norouz on the day itself though is setting up the special table - sofreh-e haft sin (pronounced "seen"), the "table of the seven s's."  "Haft sin" refers to placing seven items on the table that start with the letter "س" in Farsi and each have a special significance, many having to do with rebirth, health, and prosperity.  Setting the table as a family is very similar to placing ornaments on a Christmas tree together.  The "seven s's" and their significance are as follows:
  1. Sabzeh (سبزه) - green sprouts from lentils or wheat, with a red ribbon tied around, symbolizing life.  On the 13th day of celebrations, Sizdah bedar, families go on picnics and people tie the sprouts together and throw them into moving water so that the current will carry their wishes onward to be fulfilled in the New Year;
  2. Samanou (سمنو) - dish made of wheat germ or lentils (we don't usually, or ever, have this on our table), symbolizing affluence;
  3. Sib (سیب) - apples, symbolizing beauty and health;
  4. Sonbol (سنبل) - hyacinth flowers, one of my favorite flowers for its fragrance;
  5. Senjed (سنجد) - dried fruit from a lotus tree, symbolizing love;
  6. Seer (سیر) - garlic, symbolizing good health;
  7. Somagh (سماق) - sumac, a deep fiery red color representing beauty and the color of the sunrise. 
Haft Sin Norouz table - 1391
There are also other "non-س" items that are placed on the table that carry their own significance.  These include:
  1. A Qur'an;
  2. A book of poetry (Divan-e Hafez shown in picture above);
  3. Vinegar (serkeh سرکه), symbolizing old age and patience;
  4. Gold coins (sekkeh سکه), symbolizing wealth and prosperity;
  5. Goldfish, symbolizing life;
  6. Rosewater for its fragrance;
  7. Colorfully dyed eggs, symbolizing fertility;
  8. An orange floating in a bowl of water, representing the earth in the universe (it is believed that the orange will rotate ever so slightly at the exact moment of the vernal equinox);
  9. Candles lit for each child in the family; and
  10. A mirror, placed behind the lit candles so that it reflects the light back to the viewers.
Even though I am in Geneva, it was great to be able to see a bit of Norouz at the UN, and to run into coworkers at the event as well.  Wishing everyone an amazing 1393!

!!! نوزوز تان پیروز


Anonymous said...

Nicely written up. love the fish picture! JO

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