Today at 12:57 p.m. was a celebration. Not only because the sun was shining and temperatures were in the 50s for the first time in a looooong time, but for many Iranian families around the world it was time to celebrate Persian New Year at the vernal equinox.
The first time I celebrated Nowruz, or Persian New Year, was when I was dating my now-husband. We were living in Washington, DC where there is a fairly large Persian community and thus some great Persian restaurants and grocery stores nearby. We went to our favorite one, Yekta, in Rockville, Maryland, to pick up sweets, sprouted herbs and nuts before heading to his parents’ house in Pennsylvania for the celebration.
Upon arrival we were greeted with the haftseen – an ornately decorated table full of seven symbolic items, each beginning with the letter “s” representing spring, renewal and rebirth. Items on the table included: seeb (apple) representing beauty; seer (garlic) for good health; serkeh (vinegar) representing patience; sonbol (hyacinth) to symbolize spring; samanu (sweet pudding) representing fertility; sabzeh (sprouts) for rebirth; and sekeh (coins) for prosperity.
The table often also includes other important items such as a mirror and candles for reflection into the future, a copy of the Quran, a live goldfish symbolizing life, and painted eggs representing fertility, along with a mouth-watering spread of sweets, dates, nuts and other delicacies.
The holiday marks the spring equinox and is an occasion for Iranian families to gather together, enjoy food, share gifts and celebrate the beginning of the Persian New Year. Families often exchange clothes and gifts and focus on renewing bonds and connections. Thirteen days after the New Year, it is tradition to take the sprouts from the haftseen and toss them into a stream, symbolically “letting go” of bad luck for the year ahead.
We found Nowruz in the South when we lived in North Carolina and celebrated at the local Persian restaurant and store Sage Cafe where we frequently stopped to pick up our favorite rice and saffron and rosewater flavored ice cream.
While I still dream of a go-to Persian restaurant to satisfy my kabob cravings in Mercer County, my in-laws make the detour to Persian Grill in Lafayette Hill, PA when they come to visit. Of course nothing quite tastes like my mother-in-law’s own Persian cooking but in a pinch it will do.
Tell me, Mercerites, do you know of any other local Persian restaurants we should try? Eide Shoma Mobarak – Happy New Year!