A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts for Nowruz: The Haft Sin Table, and Time for a New Day?

Spring begins today, and the ancient spring/New Year's festival of Nowruz, common to Iran and to peoples whose culture derives from Ancient Persia one way or another — Iranians and Kurds and Turks and Azeris and Afghans, a great many Central Asians, some Balkan Muslims, Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis, the diasporas of all of the above, and Zoroastrians and Baha'is wherever they reside — it is the New Year (in the Iranian Solar reckoning, 1392). Today is the actual equinox, when many will celebrate; tomorrow is officially the first of Farvardin in the Persian calendar, and thus the "official" date.

The traditional Haft Sin table, where the table is spread with seven items starting with the letter "s" (sin) has its roots in an earlier Haft chin of pre-Islamic times. There is an older version, which includes items such as a mirror and a fish in water (still used by Zoroastrians and others: left), and a newer version with mostly seeds and foodstuffs, more common today (below right).

But given the growing confrontation with Iran over its alleged nuclear program, the coincidence of the tenth annversary of the war with Iraq (when a war over a nonexistent WMD capability led to a decade of disorder), and President Obama's visit to Israel (main cheerleader for pressure on Iran), I thought it might be time for a simple reminder: Nowruz, though usually translated as, and equivalent to, "New Year," does not in fact mean "New Year": it literally means "New Day."

To Americans, Israelis, Iranians and all who mark Nowruz, Nowruz Mobarak: may all of us find in this year a New Day.

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