The time period coming out of winter and entering the spring solstice has been a time of celebration for many cultures around the world. It is a time to celebrate with family and friends, and time to celebrate life and rebirth, planting of crops, making babies, eating and drinking… and making more babies. Basically “Prom Season” in Creek County. Nowruz comes after Mardi gras and the beginning of Lent, past St. Patrick’s day and the kick off to spring. Now it’s “our turn” as my friend turned family Azin Richa states it…This is the Persian New Year 1396 or Nowruz meaning New Day .
These cultural celebrations are a great time to celebrate the ending of winter’s long nights, and spring’s arrival of new days, light, and growth. Typically religion based, and thanks to the Zoroastrians for nowruz, the kick off to the vernal equinox has a celebration near and dear to my heart. So excuse me for being a little bias, but as far as I am concerned the Persian’s and those other cultures who celebrate Nowruz nail this time period the best.
As does the Christmas tree and nativity scenes, the Seder meal of passover, and most major holidays, symbols of the season tell the story of that particular holiday. Haft-Seen meaning the Seven-S’s (Haft: Seven and Seen: “S” ) is a symbolic grouping of different items all beginning with the letter “s” in the Iranian/Persian language “farsi”. The symbols coming down from the ancient Zoroastrian religion are said to be the “angelic heralds” of happiness, life/birth, joy, health, prosperity, patience, and beauty.
Prominently displayed in the home, the Haft-Seen is constructed days before Nowruz in anticipation of family and friends gathering to celebrate. It takes some work too.
Weeks before whole grain un-pelted wheat, barley, or lentils are soaked for days and forced to sprout. This is called Sabzeh. Once the grains or lentils have sprouted, a little TLC is used to encourage their continued vibrant green color, height, and life. On the thirteenth day of spring, or Sizdeh Bedar, the sabzeh is symbolically let go in a river, lake, or open water. Letting go of the sabzeh means letting go of any “bad mojo” that may have been absorbed leading up to the new year. Southerners like eating blackeyed peas for good luck… Persians let the sabzeh go for good luck. There’s also a tradition for single girls to tie a knot in the sabzeh before releasing into the water in hopes of finding a husband.
Let’s talk about the Samanoo/Samanu, or the brown sweet nutty flavored pudding, included in the haft-seen table. First off I tried to make this twice and failed miserably. Failing the second time because I gave up, because you actually have to stand over the stove at least 5 hours constantly stirring the pudding. Not to mention it takes three or four days to sprout the wheat (the "milk" from puréed sprouted wheat is used to make the samanoo). I mean... God bless anyone that prepares samanoo homemade, and I do love a cooking challenge, but thankfully it can also be bought pre-made. After reading many articles on the making of samanoo, Ialso found that some people just lay out the wheat grains to “represent” the intent of samanoo. I liked that idea as you can probably see from my haft-seen. Hey… I’m a busy guy, stop judging.
Now for the rest of the S’s and some add on’s to really make a beautiful haft-seen. Of course everything on the table besides the seven major players all symbolize something beautiful when it comes to celebrating nowruz.
The Seven S’s:
Sabzeh - The early sprouting of greens. A setting of newly sprouted wheat grass or lentils typically. The Sabzeh represents Re-birth and life
Senjed- Wild Olive Fruit or Oleaster Fruit. I haven't really figured this one out so typically use date fruit or the meanest looking olives I can find. Senjed is to represent love, which is apropos to not being able to figure it out.
Seeb- The Apple, representing beauty.
Samanoo: Sweet Wheat Pudding: Samanoo represents affluence and wealth, power and bravery. It should also represent patience and killer biceps after three days of sprouting and five hours of constant stirring.
Sumac: Ground Sumac Berries. It is a rich, tart, blood orange to aubergine colored seasoning used on rice, kabobs, or salads in Persian cooking. It is also the base ingredient in my Persian Rub. Sumac symbolizes Patience and Tolerance along with symbolizing the sunrise
Serkeh: Vinegar. A jar, glass, or vial of vinegar on your Haft-Seen table represents Age and Wisdom.
Seer: Garlic. Bulbs of papery white garlic honors Health and Medicine on the Haft Seen table.
On your “Sofreh” or the decorative table top, lay out these items decoratively . My sofreh was given to me by my aunt Mahjabin (Ameh Mahjabin ) and cousin Mina, and is very special to me.
Along with the Seven-S’s there are other items you can lay out as well:
A mirror to reflect the new light of the season and for truth. There’s nothing like a mirror to reflect “truth” (especially at the gym), so I used a mirrored cake stand for my “reflection”.
Candle sticks for “light” and flowers of spring or Sonbol (Hyacinth). Because I am in Oklahoma and our state tree, the Oklahoma Redbud, is flowering now I chose to snip a few branches from a tree in my yard.. or my neighbor’s yard…the judge hasn't ruled who's Redbud that is exactley.
Sekkeh or coins represents money and wealth, decorated eggs (think of Easter) for fertility, and and an orange floating in a bowl of water to represent the earth floating in space.
Traditionally, there may also be a holy book or book or poems from Rumi or Omar Khayyam representing heritage, and my favorite live gold fish swimming around representing “Pisces” or the first month beginning the new year. I always donate the goldfish and their food to a local elementary school, for anyone wondering.
The Haft Seen can be as big and bougie as you want or small and space fitting appropriate to your home. It can be completely traditional or “deconstructed”, minimal , and sleek. I have seen parts of haft-seen broken up into different rooms. The sabzeh and eggs on a dining room table, Apples, garlic and sumac in another room. Your haft-seen is you and can be whatever you want it to be.
Whatever time the vernal equinox happens, no matter the time, family and/or friends are to gather around the table and do a countdown… you know like New Year’s Eve… and also symbolizing that the family will be together for the coming year. This Nowruz, the vernal equinox is March 20that 5:28:40 am CST.
As with any culture and their cultural beliefs, symbols are the key to a holiday. These symbols represent centuries of people studying the seasons and the stars, grasping understanding of world-order, learned experiences, gains and loses, and most importantly… traditions. Those holiday traditions tell a story of how others live, love, and believe. They are what makes us human... the light and love that has sustained people for centuries. Happy Spring, Happy Nowruz! Eide shoma mobarak!