7 Symbols of Nowruz: From Iran’s Ancient Roots to Modern Haft-Sin Celebrations

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Welcome to the vibrant world of Nowruz, where ancient traditions meet modern festivities in a symphony of color and joy! Nowruz isn’t just a holiday. It’s a jubilant celebration that ignites the spirit and brings communities together joyfully. At the heart of Nowruz lies the captivating Haft-Sin table, a symbol of renewal and abundance. From the lush greenery of Sabzeh, which promises growth, to the sweetness of Samanu, which embodies prosperity, every item tells a story of resilience and optimism. Nowruz isn’t confined to one corner of the globe. It is a celebration that transcends borders, uniting cultures near and far. From Iran to Afghanistan, Tajikistan to Turkey, people of diverse backgrounds come together to welcome the arrival of spring hearts full of hope.

Vinegar (Serkeh)

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Serkeh, or vinegar, symbolizes the virtues of patience, wisdom, and maturity. Grapes or other fruits undergo a transformative journey through fermentation, evolving into a tangy and flavorful condiment. Similarly, challenges and experiences shape us, imparting valuable lessons and insights to our personal growth and development. As a symbol of aging and refinement, Serkeh reminds us to embrace change and adapt to new circumstances with grace and resilience. Its presence on the Haft-Sin table encourages individuals to cultivate patience, endurance, and a deeper appreciation for the richness of life’s journey.

Sprouts or Wheat Grass (Sabzeh)

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Sabzeh, or sprouted seeds, symbolizes the renewal of life and nature. As the seeds germinate and grow into lush green shoots, they represent spring’s arrival and the Earth’s rejuvenation after the cold winter. Sabzeh also embodies the idea of new beginnings and the potential for growth and prosperity in the coming year. Its fresh, vibrant appearance evokes hope and optimism, encouraging individuals to embrace change and seize opportunities for personal and spiritual development.

Garlic (Seer)

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Seer, or garlic, is revered for its medicinal properties and is believed by so many to promote good health and ward off illness. Its intense aroma and robust flavor symbolize vitality, strength, and resilience in the face of adversity. In Iranian culture, garlic has long been valued for its ability to boost the immune system and purify the body, making it an essential ingredient in traditional remedies and cuisine. As a symbol of health and well-being, Seer underscores the importance of self-care and the pursuit of a balanced and holistic lifestyle.

Wheat Pudding (Samanu)

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Samanu, a sweet pudding made from sprouted wheat, carries profound symbolism related to fertility, abundance, and prosperity. The lengthy process of preparing Samanu, which involves soaking and cooking wheat until it transforms into a rich paste, reflects the rewards of patience, diligence, and perseverance. As a staple dish during Nowruz celebrations, Samanu embodies the sweetness of life and the blessings of a bountiful harvest. Its consumption fosters community and togetherness as families and friends gather to share its richness and abundance.

Dried Oleaster (Senjed)

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Senjed, or the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, is a symbol of love, affection, and kindness. Its sweet and tangy flavor evokes feelings of warmth and generosity, fostering harmonious relationships and strengthening familial bonds. In Persian folklore, Senjed is often associated with romantic love and courtship, serving as a token of admiration and devotion. Its inclusion on the Haft-Sin table signifies the importance of nurturing meaningful connections and fostering mutual respect and understanding among loved ones.

Apple (Seeb)

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Seeb, or apple, embodies notions of beauty, fertility, and abundance in Persian tradition. Its crisp texture and vibrant color evoke the vitality of nature and the promise of a fruitful harvest. In folklore, apples are often associated with love, romance, and renewal, making them a fitting symbol for spring and the start of a new year. As a staple fruit in Iranian cuisine, Seeb is celebrated for its versatility and nutritional value, serving as a reminder of the importance of nourishing both the body and the soul.

Sumac (Somagh)

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Somaq, or sumac, represents the dawn of a new day and the triumph of light over darkness. Its bright red hue symbolizes the rising sun and the promise of a fresh start. In Iranian culture, sumac is prized for its tangy flavor and aromatic fragrance, adding depth and complexity to various dishes. As a symbol of vitality and renewal, Somaq encourages individuals to embrace optimism and resilience in the face of challenges, trusting that brighter days lie ahead. Its inclusion on the Haft-Sin table serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and the constant possibility for growth and transformation.

Other Items and Symbols

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In addition to the seven traditional items beginning with the letter “S” that adorn the Nowruz table, there are various other symbols and items rich in cultural significance. Colorful eggs symbolize fertility, renewal, and the cycle of life. The mirror represents self-reflection and the importance of introspection during the new year. Candles signify light and enlightenment, illuminating the path to wisdom and prosperity. Goldfish symbolize life, abundance, and good fortune, while flowers evoke the beauty and vibrancy of springtime. Coins are often included to represent wealth, prosperity, and the promise of financial success in the coming year. Together, these items create a tableau of tradition and symbolism, embodying the spirit of hope, renewal, and celebration that defines Nowruz.

Colored Eggs (Tokhmeh Morgh)

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Colored eggs are a vibrant addition to the Nowruz table, symbolizing fertility, renewal, and the arrival of spring. Families often gather to dye eggs in various colors and patterns, representing the diversity and beauty of new beginnings. These eggs hold special significance, as they are believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. Guests may exchange colored eggs as tokens of friendship and goodwill, fostering a sense of unity and joy during the festivities. Coloring eggs dates back centuries and is cherished across cultures celebrating the spring equinox.

Goldfish (Mahi)

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Their presence on the Nowruz table represents the hope for a fruitful and flourishing year ahead and the abundance of blessings in all aspects of life. As families gather around the table to admire the goldfish swimming gracefully in their bowls, they are reminded of the beauty and resilience of nature, reinforcing the spirit of renewal and optimism that defines the New Year celebrations.

Mirror (Ayneh)

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Placing a mirror on the Nowruz table is a symbolic gesture of reflection, inviting individuals to contemplate their past experiences and aspirations for the future. Mirrors also represent self-awareness and inner beauty, encouraging introspection and personal growth. In Iranian culture, breaking a mirror is considered unlucky, emphasizing the importance of treating one’s reflection with care and respect during the New Year celebrations.

Flowers (Gol)

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Fresh flowers, such as hyacinths, tulips, and narcissus, adorn the Nowruz table, infusing the atmosphere with their beauty and fragrance. These blooms symbolize the renewal of nature and the awakening of life after the cold winter months. Arranging flowers is a cherished tradition, reflecting the harmony and balance sought during the New Year festivities. Each flower holds significance; for example, hyacinths represent love and rebirth, while tulips symbolize abundance and prosperity. Flowers on the Nowruz table evoke a sense of joy and optimism, signaling the start of a new chapter filled with hope and vitality.

Coins (Sekeh)

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Coins (Sekeh) are placed on the Nowruz table to symbolize prosperity and abundance in the coming year. These coins represent wealth and financial success, reflecting the celebrants’ desire for economic stability and prosperity. In some cultures, coins are distributed among family members as tokens of good fortune and blessings for the New Year. The tradition of including coins on the Nowruz table dates back centuries from ancient customs associated with agricultural abundance and prosperity. Families express their hopes for a prosperous and fruitful year by incorporating coins into the festivities.

Candles (Shaam)

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Lit candles illuminate the Nowruz table, symbolizing enlightenment, happiness, and the triumph of light over darkness. As families gather to celebrate the New Year, the soft and beautiful glow of candles creates a warm and welcoming ambiance, fostering a sense of togetherness and unity. Lighting candles is a symbolic act of dispelling negativity and embracing optimism for the future, marking the beginning of a journey toward personal and collective growth. In some traditions, candles are arranged in specific numbers, representing aspects of life such as health, wealth, and happiness. 

Sweets and Treats (Shirini)

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While not starting with the letter “S,” sweets and treats play a central role in Nowruz celebrations, offering indulgent delights to family and guests alike. From aromatic pastries to decadent candies, these confections symbolize sweetness and abundance for the year ahead. Families often prepare an array of traditional sweets, such as baklava, halva, and nougat, showcasing the rich culinary heritage of their culture. Sharing sweets during Nowruz fosters a sense of generosity and hospitality, inviting loved ones to partake in the joyous festivities. As guests exchange treats and savor the season’s flavors, they create cherished memories and strengthen bonds of friendship and kinship throughout the year.

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This article was first published on the RB ITALA Blog.

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