The Persian New Year or Nowruz falls on the 20th or 21st of March each year. Iranians start Nowruz rituals with spring cleaning, New Year shopping and setting the Haft Seen Table, which includes seven items starting with the letter ‘seen’ in the Persian alphabet. These items include coins (Sekkeh), sumac (somagh), hyacinth (Sonbol), vinegar (Serkeh), apples (Seeb), dried jujube (Senjed) and sweet wheat germ pudding (Samanou) as well as wheat or lentil sprouts (Sabzeh). A goldfish in a clear bowl of water is included in the Haft Seen to represent life.
In the days leading to Nowruz a number of festivals are held such as Chahar-shanbeh Soori or Festival of Fire. On this ancient festival, which falls on the last Tuesday night of the solar calendar year, bonfires are lit everywhere and people jump over the fire while chanting Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to,’ symbolically asking the fire to take away their sickness and problems, to leave behind bad luck and illnesses from the previous year and be cleansed by the purity of the fire.
The New Year holidays in Iran are two weeks long and end on the 13th of Farvardin with the annual Sizdeh Bedar Festival. On this day, which is believed to be the origin of April Fools’ Day, families spend the day picnicking in nature. At the end of the day, the Sabzeh from the Haft Seen, which has symbolically collected sadness, sickness and bad luck hiding on the path of the family in the year ahead, is thrown into running water.
Another Important festival for Iranians is the Persian winter solstice celebration or Yalda Night, which falls on the 20th or21st of December. This night is considered the longest night of the year when families gather to eat a meal of rice and fish, have a special sweet ajeel (mixed nuts and berries) and fruits like pomegranate and watermelon, and recite poetry.
The Rose and Rosewater Festival is held from May 15 to 31 in Kashan, Qamsar and Niasar every year. During this festival, rosewater, which is a key ingredient in some Persian desserts and dishes, is extracted from the petals of the ‘damask rose.