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Norooz, the Iranian New Year

Norooz, the Iranian New Year

What an interesting coincidence this year! The start of the calendar year 1387 in Iran, coincides this year with the first of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal. In other words, Farvardin, the first month of Spring according to the Iranian solar calendar will be the 12th  of Rabi, which is Arabic for Spring.

Of course, at the time of Tahvil or the exact moment the New Year starts, Iranians will be praying at the revered sites of pilgrimage that dot several cities and towns, like the holy shrines; of Imam Reza ('a) in Mashhad, of Hazrat Ma'souma in Qom, of Shah Abdol-Azeem in Tehran, of Seyed Ahmad Shah Chiragh (a son of the 7th Imam) in Shiraz, etc. Still others will be in the homes along with their families seated around the Haft-Seen, supplicating to the Almighty with the following words:

Ya Moqallab al-Qoloub wa'l-Absaar; Ya Modabber al-Layl wa'n-Nahaar; Ya Mohawwel al-Howl wa'l-Ahwaal; Hawwil Halana ila Ahsan il-Haal.

Translated into English this famous Arabic supplication means:

O' Transformer of Hearts and Eyes;

O' Regulator of Day and Night;

O' Rotator of Time and Situation;

Change our state to the most excellent of Situation.

What a beautiful way to start the New Year! Certainly the dominating theme of Nowrouz this year will be the significance of the Prophet's Birthday.

As a matter of fact, Nourouz or the Spring Equinox is not the mythology or superstitious practices that the wayward have tried to turn it into. It might have been punctually observed in Iran and definitely Persianized ever since Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and borrowed this and other traditions from the astronomically advanced Mesopotamians, but there is no denying of the fact that it is as old as creation itself. You can discover the truth if you delve deeply into the Holy Qur'an, where God speaks of the yearly revival of nature as a sign to humanity of the eventual rising of the dead on the Day of Resurrection. The sayings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.A.) and the infallible Imams of his Household help unravel the mysteries of the Spring Equinox.

Apart from certain ahadith that refer to the resting of Prophet Noah's ('a) Ark on Mount Joudi after the great flood and the parting of the sea-waters for Prophet Moses ('a) on the Spring Equinox there is a narration that says it will be the Spring Equinox when the Savior of mankind, Imam Mahdi (as) will reappear to rid the earth of all vestiges of vices and oppression and to fill it with the global government of peace and justice.

So the Day of Nourouz, on which fasting has also been recommended, is a day to strengthen spiritual values, a day of self and social reform, a day to stand firm against the pressures of the unjust and oppressive powers, and a day to renew allegiance to the Lord of the Age, Imam Mahdi (as).

In addition to the Iranians, with whom Nourouz is a national symbol, the day is reverently observed by Afghans, Central Asians, Turks, people of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as people in parts of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. In several Arab lands of West Asia and North Africa, the Spring Equinox is celebrated as Eid al-Umm (Mother Nature's Day).

The Japanese also celebrate the spring festival in March and until the 18th century the Russian calendar used to start on March 24. In view of these facts, the Spring Equinox has been declared as a UN holiday.

Iranians prepare for Nourouz well in advance and start with a thorough cleaning of their houses since a famous hadith from the Prophet says:

Cleanliness is part of faith.

The spring is also a pleasant occasion to celebrate after the cold and dreary days of winter. Upon the arrival of spring one of the common traditions in Iran is cleaning the houses thoroughly and washing carpets and draperies and brushing furniture, In all towns and cities, cleanliness is well observed even on streets and public sites. In some localities, people by dividing works among themselves prepare for the New Year. The old and young, men and women work in a general voluntary mobilization for cleaning the locality and the place of work.

As people clean their clothes and homes they make their chests the refuge of affection and sincerity. Thus, wishing well for everybody and showing fraternal feelings is a special feature of Nourouz.

Every year on the threshold of the New Year, public efforts to look into the needs of the poor and helping them are seen all over Iran. Every one vies to help the deprived sections and extend financial aid to them in order to gladden their hearts and provide a   pleasant atmosphere. Actually on the last days of the year, people with the cooperation of the government engage in public mobilization of charity work for sharing happiness with the have-nots.

Another common tradition in Nowrouz at the moment the earth completes its revolution around the sun, is the Haftseen tablecloth that is spread and adorned with fruits, dry nuts, cookies, flowers, and of course, a copy of the Holy Qur'an. In addition, seven items that begin with the letter Seen or S of Persian like Seer (garlic), Senjed (kind of a plant), Serkeh (vinegar), Seeb (apple), Somaq (sumac), Sabzeh (grass), and Samanou (a typical Iranian sweet prepared from wheat pods) are spread on the Haftseen.

Nourouz and the beginning of Spring is among the right occasions to put into practice one of the major recommendations of Islam that is renewal of friendship and strengthening of affection. Thus at the turn of the New Year, greetings are exchanged and affection replaces strained ties. Usually youngsters visit the elders with visits to one's parents a top priority. Gifts are also exchanged. People also visit hospitals to sympathize with patients and share with them the freshness of spring. Hospitals and rehabilitation centers witness the most beautiful scenes of sincerity and affection during these days.

Most Iranians take the opportunity of Nourouz holidays to visit other cities and towns or plan trips abroad for change of atmosphere, Historical sites and places with good climate are the favourite spots. The 13th of Farvardin is usually spent outdoors to provide a fitting end to the spring holidays, before start of school and return to normal working life.

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