History of Norooz

Norooz, in word, means "new day". It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring.

For thousands of years, Norooz was rotating. The Zoroastrian religious calendar, used before Islam, consisted of 12 months with 30 days each, making 360 days, plus a “stolen five” (Panjeh-ye Mostareghe) days that was held at the end of each year, adding up to 365 days. Early astronomers were not aware of the leap years and did not add the one day more every four years, thus caused the rotation of Norooz. The other fact was that during the anarchic times and moments of unrest in the country such as time of Alexander, or end of Ashkanids, people forgot to add the five stolen days, and this resulted in another problem in the calendar. During the Sasanid era Tansar, the head priest (Mubedhan-i Mubedh) of Ardeshir I unsuccessfully tried to organise the calendar. There are accounts of Norooz in Autumn, winter or even Summer!

The first person who re-organised the calendar successfully was Omar Khayyam, the mathematician and astronomer of 5th century H (11-12th AD). He drew a chart for the year and put the start of the year at the moment of Aries’ entrance to the house of Sun. He made a calendar of 6 months with 31 days, and 6 months with 30 days making a total 365 days, and suggested the addition of 1 day every four years and also addition of a months every 13,000 years. This is the most complete calendar ever made. Khayyam called it “the Jalali Calendar” because of “Jalal” al-Din Malekshah Saljuqi, his patron king. Currently, his calendar is called the “Khorshidi”(Sun based) calendar, as oppose to the Arabic “Ghamari” (moon based) calendar.

Although Khayyam was Iranian and he created this calendar based on the pre-Islamic calendar of Zoroastrians, it was not used widely in Iran until the 1925 AD(1304 HS) when Reza Shah Pahlavi ordered it to be used instead of “Ghamari” calendar. In the process of finding names for the months, there are some interesting mistakes happened which are note-worthy. The first month is originally called “Fravartishn”, but when they wanted to choose it as the name, they found it too hard, so they made it shorter by calling it Farvardin. Second month was originally Ardibehesht, but it became Ordibehesht. Fifth month, Mordad, was suppose to be Amordad, but the Mordad form sounded better. Seventh months Mehr was “Mithr” at first, but ‘th’ sound is hard to pronounce in Farsi, so they chose the acceptable replacement of ‘h’. Azar, the ninth months was “Atar” at first, but it sounds too Zoroastrian, so ‘z’ was found to be more acceptable. And finally, the last month was “Esfandarmadh(z)”, but oh god, who is going to say that! So “Esfand” was thought of as more suitable, although it is the name of a spice!

Now, in ahistorical sense, Norooz is the oldest Iranian holiday. Together with Mehregan (entrance of Libra to the house of Sun), it was one of the “two” new years of ancient Aryans. Mehregan was the first day of the “cold” year (Autumn and Winter), and Norooz was the start of the “warm” year (Spring and Summer). It is said that Norooz is chosen as the official holiday by King Yama (Jamsheed), the ancient Iranian king who is the hero of the mythological story of expanding the earth. According to the story, when Yama expanded the earth three times, he ordered the day of the last expantion to be called Norooz, a New Day for the Iranian race.

The truth most likely lies somewhere in between this story and the fact that Norooz is the beginning of the Spring. It could be that Norooz was already a holiday for the Aryans, but when it coincided with an important event in the reign of Jamsheed, it was chosen to be the "special" holiday.

What ever it might have been, Norooz became the most important holiday in Iran after the Islam. Comparing to Norooz, Mehregan and Sadeh (another important Iranian holiday) lost their importance. The selection of Norooz as the only standing "Iranian" holiday after Islam might also be a direct result of the limitations imposed on Iranians by Moselm rulers. For Iranians after Islam, Norooz was a sign of holding on to the national values. It helped them to remember their heritage in spite of cultural attacks of Arabs, Mongols, Turks, and Westerners. Norooz continues its role of national pride in this world of cultural trades and influences. For the Iranians out side home, Norooz is an element of nostalgia and a reminder of home, at least once a year. Although Norooz has some outside influences like Qoran and the Arabic prayer during the beginning of the year, but it still holds the distinctively Iranian values of health, green-ness, life, light, and happiness. Noroozetan Pirooz.

Traditions Of Norooz

Norooz or Iranian new year is the beginning of the Spring. We calculate the exact astronomical start of the Spring and take that as the beginning of the year.This exact second is called "Saal Tahvil".

Iranians consider Norooz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the new year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), they buy new clothes, and they grow green grass(Sabze). For the actual Saal Tahvil, they put seven items on the table-linen that all start with "S". This is called "Haft Seen". These seven things are: Seeb(apple), Sabze(green grass), Serke(vinager), Samanoo(a meal made out of wheat), Senjed(a special kind of berry), Sekke(coin), and Seer(garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh(sumak, an Iranian spice).

After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other, usually older ones to the younger ones. During the holidays, people go to see their relatives. Foods and snacks are usually prepared, snacks are "aajil"(a combination of different nuts with reisins and other sweet stuff) and fruits. When the guest is leaving, the host gives some "Eidi" to the kids, this Eidi is often some money; it is not very common to give toys as the Eidi.

At the thrteenth day of the new year, the people go to picnics. This is called Sizdah Bedar. This is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after "Sizdah Bedar".

Another tradition of the new year celebrations is "Chahar Shanbe Soori". It takes place before Saal Tahvil, at the last wednesday of the old year, well actually Tuesday night! People make fire and they jump from the fire and sing a little song :

Zardi-e Man az to

Sorkhi-e to az Man

It means: I will give you my yellow colour (sign of sickness), and you give me your red colour (sign of healthiness). This is becuse in the older times when Iraninas where Zoroasterin, they believed fire can cure people and take the sickness away.Norooz is a fun time for all of the Iranians, old and young.

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