Sunday, March 20, 2011

PS Holiday Trilogy Concludes with Naw-Ruz and Purim

The Vernal Equinox on March 21 closes out a trio of holidays: first St. Patrick’s Day, then St. Marcus Day and now the coming of spring. The other day, I heard of Naw-Ruz for the first time. Naw-Ruz (which goes by a variety of alternative spellings) means “New Day,” occurs on or around the first day of spring, and is a cultural holiday to people in Iran and people all over the world of the Baha’i faith.

In Iran, Naw-Ruz begins the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the new year. It’s now a secular holiday observed by all religious groups. Although once associated with the Zoroastrian religion, Naw-Ruz likely has some Pagan origins. Zoroastrians observe only two official religious holidays, one at the spring equinox and the other at the fall equinox. (Indian Zoroastrians, the Parsis, have a different calendar and observe Naw-Ruz around August.)

Like the Christian Easter, Iranian Naw-Ruz (Norooz) may be celebrated by spring cleaning, wearing new clothes, coloring eggs and other symbols of new life and beginnings. A common Naw-Ruz observance is the “Seven S’s,” a display of seven items that start with S in the Persian language. They include lilies, apples, hyacinths, garlic, silver coins, vinegar, green grass, senjad berries...that's more than seven because there are various combinations.

The final Tuesday of the old year is celebrated with a bonfire. Jumping over the bonfire is a symbolic purification. The 13th day of the new year, Sizdah Bedar, has its own custom: unmarried women who want to get married go into the fields to tie knots in the grasses. Just like in the English language "tying the knot" symbolizes a wedding.

The Baha’i feast of Naw-Ruz is observed by taking a day off from work for prayer, celebration and a shared evening meal. Some Baha’i practitioners give gifts. The day also marks the end of a 19-day fast.

On March 20 and 21 this year, Jewish practitioners celebrate Purim, Judaism's spring festival. (The date on the Hebrew calendar in 14 Adar.) It has been compared to Christianity's Carnival/Mardi Gras and to Halloween. It involves feasting, noisemakers and costumes. Israeli kids bonk each other on the head with toy hammers.

The religious basis of Purim is the book of Esther (Megillat Esther), the ancient text in which a plot by the evil Haman (a Persian) to destroy the Jews is foiled by the righteous Mordechai and his brave niece, Esther. The commandment on Purim is to drink alcohol until one can't tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman. Many also give to charity as part of the celebration.

Purim has also contributed to the world of desserts hamantaschen, the delicious triangular pastries with poppyseed, fruit or chocolate filling in the middle. The name means "Haman's hats."

Beyer, Catherine. "Naw-Ruz, The Baha'i and Zoroastrian New Year."
Bodazey Magazine. "Norooz, The Iranian New Year at Present Times."
"Purim 2011: What You Need to Know."
Walbridge, John. "The Baha'i New Year."
"What is a Hamantasch?"


Vamchoir said...

It seemed interesting to me to learn that Persians utilize green grass as a symbol of new birth when every time you see pictures of Iran on television (here in America) all ya see is sand. The public media never shows pictures of their rain forests ... at least I've never seen such.

I wonder what they dye their eggs with and whether or not they look like the Easter eggs we see here.

Erin O'Riordan said...

I'm thinking that Iran is like Egypt: green wherever there's a river.

If you click the Bodazey Magazine link at the bottom you'll see a nice photo of the Seven S's table, complete with lightly dyed eggs.