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Home » National Celebrations of Iran » Haft Sin, the Ceremonial Spread for No Ruz (Nowruz, Norooz, Noruz)
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Haft Sin
The Ceremonial Spread for No Ruz (Nowruz, Norooz, Noruz)

October 2009-09-09

Haft Sin

Denoting 'seven items beginning with the letter sin (S)' is a very important component of the rituals of the No Ruz. The items are traditionally displayed on the Sofra-ye haft sin (Haft Sin Spread). Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called sabzeh (meaning green shoots). Decorated with colourful ribbons it is kept until the last day and will be disposed off on ‘sizdeh be dar’, the 13th day while outdoors. Many people place mixed herbs (sabzi) and branches from musk willow in water on the spread as well. In ancient times the musk willow and water represented the deity; Sepanta Armaiti/Spandarmad, as does the wild rue (esfand).

Muslim historians mention that, "for the king the site of growing barley was particularly deemed a blessing and the harvest of the green shoots was always accompanied with songs, music and mirth.”In Vis va Ramin (a Sasanian love story, probably of Parthian origin that has survived into medieval Persian, it is mentioned that, “though the king’s banquet was splendid, others were no less so. Everyone had gone from his house to the country. From every garden, field and river a different variety of music charmed the ear."

In the ancient times, twenty-five days before New Year, 12 large cylindrical shaped containers made from raw brick were erected in the city centre. Different seeds were planted in each including wheat, barley, lentils and rice. On the sixth day of Farvardin, the new growths were pulled out and scattered around with music, songs and dancing. Abu- rayhan Biruni the celebrated Iranian scientist in his book; Asar al-Bagheyeh states, that this was done to estimate the growth of various seeds for the new season and to know how good a crop they could expect in the coming year. All people also used to grow seven seeds in their own homes. Iranians today still plant tulips, daisies, pansies and violets and many other flowers depending on their location before No Ruz, but the tradition of growing seven seeds is no longer practiced.

A few live gold fish are placed in a fish bowl containing fresh water. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them until they die. The fish represent the mythical fish Kara Mahi, which swims in the mythical Vourukaæa Sea and wards off harmful creatures (Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p. 89). Anahid/Anahita is represented by the fresh water (rain water) collected especially for this occasion and the fish are normally placed in this water.  

Mirrors are placed on the New Year spread with candles. Lit candles are a symbol of both purifying fire and Asha-Vahishta (Ordibehesht). Zoroastrians today place the lit candle in front of the mirror to increase the reflection of the light and traditionally there was one candle for each member of the family. Mirrors were significant items in Zoroastrian symbolism, art and architecture and still are an integral part of most Iranian celebrations including marriage ceremonies. They are used extensively in Iranian mystical literature as well and represent self-reflection. All Iranian burial shrines are still extensively decorated with mirrors, a popular decorative style from the ancient times. Light is regarded as sacred by the Zoroastrians and the use of mirrors multiplies the reflection of the light.

Other items present on the New Year spread are hyacinths (sonbol) in ancient times they symbolized the two deities Khordad and Amurdad. Wine was always present since it represents liquid gold and was used at all religious ceremonies. Since the Muslim conquest it has been replaced by vinegar since alcohol is banned in Islam. Egg, a universal symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth (Sepanta Armaiti) is still present and in general represents humans (the word human in Persian is mardom meaning mortal seed). The eggs are hard-boiled and traditionally are coloured in red, green or yellow, colours favoured by Zoroastrians. More recently, following from the Easter egg tradition, any colour is used and they are elaborately decorated. The eggs are offered to children as treats. Fresh garlic is used to warn off bad omens. Garlic also symbolizes Armaiti/Spandarmaz and her healing power. Garlic was used by the Iranians as a medicine and a means of warding off demonic powers. Ancient Iranians grew seven different herbs for the New Year and garlic may have been one of those.

Samano a thick brownish paste is also present on the New Year spread. It is made from wheat and is a nutritious meal and was an essential part of the feasts. It was assumed to enhance sexual powers and therefore was significant for fertility. It is associated with Anahita and is traditionally prepared by women, especially those wanting children.

Coins symbolizing wealth and prosperity are also present and in ancient times were associated with the deity Sharivar. Fruits and special sweets and baked goods are present as well and Iranians believe by eating them, their life will be "sweet" and good in the coming year.

For the ancient Iranians No Ruz was a celebration of life. Forces of nature completely beyond their control dominated people’s lives. They formed a union with these forces to protect themselves. Through this union they created a balance and maintained the cosmic order, Asha. Without it there would be chaos, the world of the Hostile Spirit (Ahriman). The Zoroastrians were and are required to have the same mind, the same voice and act the same way as their god, the Lord of Wisdom. They are expected to only think of good things, speak good words and perform the good deeds. This way they managed to maintain their balance and No Ruz was an occasion when life with all its glory was celebrated and cherished.

For modern Iranians, No Ruz is a feast of renewal and freshness; a time to visit relatives, friends and to pay respect to the older members of the family. By thorough house cleaning the physical space is purified and merrymaking efforts to create comfort and happiness becomes a celebration in itself. This is reminiscence of the ancient traditions when all forces of Joy were regarded as holy and venerated. Festivities will go on for 13 days and will end on the 13th day known as "Seezdeh be Dar", which literally means getting rid of the omen of the 13th day.


HeadingSeezdeh Beh-Dar; the Last Day of No Ruz (Nowruz, Norouz, Nooruz)

On the last day of the New Year celebrations, the 13th day of the first month, it is the universal custom in Iran to pass as many hours as possible outdoors. All people will leave their homes to go to the parks for a very festive picnic. It is a must to spend this day in nature and the occasion is called "Seezdeh be dar" (getting rid of the omen of the 13th day).

This day was not celebrated in this manner before Islam and might be the result of several rituals combined into one. This day was devoted to the deity Tishtrya (Tir), the protector of rain. In the Zoroastrian calendar each day is named after a deity and this particular day in the month of Farvardin is named after Tishtrya. In the past there were outdoor festivities to pray to this deity in hope of rain that was essential for agriculture. The act of throwing away the sabzeh (green shoots) from Haft Sin into rivers and running waters on this day also indicates veneration for a water deity. The act symbolically represents an offering made to such a deity.

However, Anahita was the goddess protector of running water and not Tishtrya. It appears that at least part of the celebration is to pay respect to some water deity. Tishtrya/rain or Anahita/water are likely combined together to preserve veneration for water deities in general. In ancient mythology the deity Vata (the rain-bringer) was associated with Harahvati Aredvi Sura, which means possessing waters (Anahita is a later assimilation of this deity). In Zoroastrian cosmology there was a mythical river out of which all rivers flow. Clouds also took up rain from the same mythical river. Every year Tishtrya goes to the river in shape of a white stallion to fight the "Demon of Dearth", appearing in shape of a black stallion. After his victory, Trishtrya rushes into the sea and water flows and is dispersed all over and Vata snatches some up for the clouds. The rest of the water is mixed with seeds of plants, which sprout as the rain falls. Ancient Iranian rituals quite often enacted their mythologies, waters were respected and many rites existed with respect to waters. It is very likely that several of these were combined to preserve some aspect of the ancient celebrations venerating waters. Up until the 19th Century, there was horse racing occurring on this day, which very likely represented the fight between the two stallions.

Today Iranians regard this day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid the misfortunes that could befall them. This notion is contrary to the Zoroastrian doctrine where all days were regarded as sacred and were named after venerated deities. The belief that the number 13 is a sign of bad omen is borrowed from the Christians and has found its way into the popular Islamic ideas. According to popular Muslim belief, the 13th day of the month is a day with unfortunate consequences (nahs in Islamic terminology), so it can be assumed that Iranians have combined the two. By going outdoors into the fields, the ancient festivities were observed while the Islamic ideas were also incorporated into the occasion. Muslims today still have a prayer for rain called "namaz e baran", which is used at times of prolonged drought. In the year 2000 AD, huge communal prayers were organized in Iran with the said prayers during the water crisis in Iran.

The festivities continue all day until the sunset. All kinds of food and delicacies are prepared with tea, local drinks, fruits, bread, cheese and fresh herbs, noodle soup called "ash e reshteh" and herbed rice with lamb (baghale polo bareh) are favourites. Wealthy Iranians will spend the day in their country homes and estates, while the entire day will be spent in their gardens. The occasion is a communal one and all close relatives and friends will participate. Wheat or barley shoots (sabzeh) that are grown especially for the New Year and are kept throughout the festivities are discarded in nature mainly in running waters and small rivers at the end of the day. The picnic ends with the setting of the sun.

With the more modern Iranians there is music and dancing while most people will play games and sports. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot with green shoots, symbolizing a marriage knot. The day should be spent joyfully with no quarrels or bad feelings and all things unpleasant are avoided to make sure nothing bad will happen. The occasion has no religious significance and is celebrated by all.

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