Nowrouz (Persian New Year Festival)

Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Persian Garden Institute for Living Heritage

The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran was simultaneous with people’s getting prepared for the biggest national event, i.e. Nowrouz, the Persian New Year Festival.

In contrast with its usual routine, this year (Year 1399 on the Iranian calendar) Nowrouz was held in a very different manner from normal times, with some of its elements having been completely removed. Iranians always welcome Nowrouz from one month before the new year time (21 March) by making preparations such as Spring cleaning known as xāne tekāni (Persian: خانه‌تکانی), buying new clothes and equipment, and preparing special foodstuffs such as sweets, dried fruits, and nuts.

The onset of this disease in Iran occurred exactly one month before the Nowrouz celebration, and the concerns arising from the conditions caused people to stay home; the shops and Nowrouz markets were virtually empty, resulting in an unprecedented economic recession.

Iranians celebrate the last Wednesday of the year with letting off fireworks and leaping over fire to, symbolically, “leave one’s yellow face behind” and enter the New Year in good, ruddy health; this year, it was either not held or was held by small groups and in a very limited way.

In the context of the quarantine (lockdown), so called, Nowrouz Greetings, the feature that defines the most significant function of Nowrouz as a peaceful, engaging event, respectful of cultural diversity and inclusion was not held in its usual form: New Year greetings and visits were held virtually through cyberspace and video and telephone calls.

Another important Nowrouz ritual is sizdah bedar (Persian: سیزده‌بدر‎), the joyful ceremonies that take place on the thirteenth day of the New Year, which are celebrated outdoors as a gathering with family, friends, relatives, who take part in music, dancing, games, and eat special meals.

This ceremony was cancelled by the government due to the requirement for a ban on gatherings in public places and in nature. As a consequence, people have tried to celebrate sizdah bedar in the courtyard or on the roofs of their houses this year. Interestingly, although not necessarily a direct effect from the pandemic conditions, a campaign has grown for eliminating the live goldfish from the Nowrouz sofreh (Nowrouz Table), or substituting it with a toy goldfish, in order to support environmental goals.

Another recent campaign has been to change the traditional Nowrouz ‘green plate’ (sabzeh), which is grown from cereal grains such as wheat, oats, etc. It is now suggested that they are substituted by transferable tree seeds or by plates with artificial greenery, with an aim to prevent the waste of grains as an essential source of foodstuffs and to promote preservation and revitalization of green land.

These good practices represent either creative modifications of Iran’s living heritage to respect social distancing policies during the COVID-19 crisis, or a support for sustainable development.

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