Persian culture is one of the richest ones in the world and has profoundly influenced other cultures, too. Iran is normally referred to as the cradles of civilization and its impact on different regions and traditions is still observable. One of the most beautiful customs which has been celebrated for over 3000 years now is Nowruz. Nowruz literally means “New Day” and is the start of the Iranian new year, celebrated on the very first day of spring, around 21 March.
For honoring such a great day, Iranian people follow many different customs and traditions. Each one of them has a special meaning and refers to one important and essential aspect of Persian culture. In this article, we are going to explore Haft-Sin, one of the most beautiful traditions of Nowruz and the hidden meaning behind it.
What is Haft-Sin?
Haft-Sin or Haft-seen, is, in fact, the tradition of putting 7 symbolic objects together whose names commence with S. Other symbolic items accompany these 7 objects and together, they create a Haft-sin. In the past, people used to put all of these items on a mantel or a designed fabric similar to a tablecloth, which they call it “Sofreh”. That’s the reason why Haft-Sin is generally referred to as “Sofreh Haft-Sin”.
A Traditional Sofreh Haft-Sin. Photo@tirgan.ca
Today, most people prefer to set up a table instead of putting it on the floor and using a mantel. But, other parts of this tradition have remained fairly intact and people still follow what their parents and grandparents have done for years. Before the beginning of the new year, Iranian people start to prepare the necessary items and once their Haft-Sin is set, it will remain in their houses until the last day of the new year’s holidays, which lasts 13 days.
A simple, modern Haft-Sin. Photo@tehrantimes.com
The items vary slightly in different parts of the country, but there are certain elements that define a Haft-Sin. These elements are Sabzeh (wheatgrass grown in a dish), Samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ), Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree), Serkeh (Persian vinegar), Seeb (apple), Seer (garlic) and Somaq (sumac).
As well as these elements, Iranians tend to put other items such as a mirror, candle, colored eggs, a bowl of water with an orange floating in it, goldfish, coins, hyacinth, and traditional sweets and pastries like nokhodchi.
Nokhodchi sweet and orange in the bowl of water. It represents the rotation of the earth. Photo@freersackler.si.edu
Another important item is a “book of wisdom”, which can be the Quran, the Avesta, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi or the divan of Hafiz. When the new year begins, older members of the family open the book and consult the book for a resolution or insight for starting the new year. Besides, this is the moment when elderlies give money to youngsters and children, which is called “Eidi”. They normally put new banknotes between the pages of the book and as soon as the new year begins, they open it and give the money as a gift to the family members.
The origin of Haft-Sin
During the Kayanids dynasty era, Haft-sin was Haft-sheen (seven SH letters) and the main items included Sharab (wine). As wine is considered to be sinful in Islam, it was replaced with Serkeh (vinegar) after the Islamic conquest of Persia and subsequently, the rest of items were replaced with other elements starting with the letter S. The real significance of seven was to represent the “Seven Eternal Laws”, which embodies the Teachings of Zarathushtra. It was a way of preserving and a reminder of the teachings of Zarathushtra.
Growing wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts is an important part of the Haft-Sin tradition. Photo@caspiannews.com
What is the meaning behind the seven ‘S’?
Each item in Haft-Sin symbolizes a concept in Persian culture. Sabzeh is a symbol of rebirth and renewal of nature. Samanu represents fertility and the sweetness of life. Senjed is for love and affection. Serkeh(vinegar) symbolizes patience and age. Seeb(apple) is a symbol of health and beauty. Seer(garlic) is for good health and Somaq (crushed spice of berries) symbolizes the sunrise and the spice of life.
Samanu and Senjed. Photo@theimaginion.com
The mirror symbolizes the sky and self-reflection. The goldfish and bowl of water represent movement and life. Goldfish is also the sign of the last month in Persian calendar (Esfand) and it turning around the bowl is a sign of turning and changing of the year. the candles bring light to Haft-sin and to life. For fertility, eggs are painted and for wealth and prosperity, people put some coins in their Haft- Sin.
The painted eggs and hyacinth flower are always present in Haft-Sin. Photo@keywordbasket.com
When you think about all these items together, you can easily understand why it is an important part of the beginning of the Iranian new year. Each one of these elements symbolizes a lovely concept and bring us the newness of fresh life, just like the Earth which starts a new life by the arrival of spring.