The first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox, falls on March 20th this year. It is a time of transition in nature and within ourselves. The worst of winter is over, sunshine and warmth are returning, flowers are blossoming, gardens are being planted and the year begins again. Day and night are in perfect balance with each lasting 12 hours. What a perfect metaphor for the effect Spring has on us! The balance between the gratitude we feel for making it through another winter and the preparations we must make to have a successful and bountiful year.
Spring is a true beginning, especially in an agrarian society. Many of us live in a way that is very disconnected from the land. Yet, at this turning point in the year it is hard to ignore the feelings that spill over into our collective consciousness from thousands of years of human tradition. It is hard to ignore the optimism and gratitude that surrounds us, the new life everywhere, the beauty and the feeling of a fresh start.
Many traditions hold this time as the true beginning of the year. For example, Martius (or March) was the first month in the original Roman calendar and Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac. Many faiths also have major holidays or festivals on or near the beginning of Spring. Easter celebrates rebirth. Passover commemorates freedom. Holi showers color on everyone and everything. And, for many, Nowruz or Navroz (literally “New Day”) is the beginning of the year. Though not well known in the West, Navroz is the Persian New Year and a major holiday in Central and Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East.
In my family, Navroz is a treasured beginning to the year in so many ways. Originally an age-old agrarian custom, Navroz has its religious roots in Zoroastrianism and is celebrated today as well by Parsis, those of the Baha’i faith, some Shia Muslims (like us), and others with Persian and Turkic ancestry. It is a national holiday in places such as Iran, Albania and Tajikistan. In fact, in Iran Nowruz is a 13 day holiday with a lengthy school vacation. This holiday also traditionally commemorates a triumph of light over darkness, which is timely as this marks the turning of the year towards days that are longer than the nights.
There are many ways to celebrate Navroz according to different religions and varying ethnic traditions in different regions. In our particular spiritual tradition, most people have special meals, wear new or fancy clothes to commemorate a new beginning and attend special prayers where we receive a gift of grain and sugar as a well-wishing for the year. As a family also following the Waldorf path and always looking to mark seasonal festivals with special traditions, we have really worked to come up with what we could do with our children to celebrate in a way that is both meaningful and simple. It is important to me that my children have traditions in their lives that are both grounding and connecting, that they come to know and be held by the rhythm of our year.
Each year on Navroz, which is held on March 21st in our tradition, we don our best clothes and attend prayers. We also dye or paint eggs and cook special meals. Eggs are a classic symbol of new life, potential and fertility, and therefore, Spring. And, of course, food is the ultimate way to celebrate everything in most families, ours included. Also, there are presents for the children and candles and decorations. Much like Easter, this is the time for baby animals, pastel colors and flowers.
Thanks to our daughter’s wonderful Waldorf kindergarten teacher, who worked with us in the past to hold a small festival in class for Navroz, we have also come up with a special tradition that really speaks to us and our children. I really feel that what we have come up with is applicable to any faith or belief system and is a sweet and simple way to welcome Spring for any family who wishes.
For our Navroz festival celebration at home, we invite good things into our life. Most Navroz traditions incorporate certain foods to represent blessings one would like to bring into their lives for the coming year. I found a lovely list of foods and what they represent to use for our own ritual.
Wheat: for Strength and Abundant Food
Sweet: (Apple) for Happiness, Love and Affection
Dry Fruit: (Mangoes) for Long Life
Raisins: for Good Health
Nuts: for Intelligence
Mint: for Curing Disease
Cloves: Pleasure of Life
We have our table beautifully set with dishes holding each of these foods, two candles to represent our two children, our painted eggs, and flowers and other decorations. We begin by talking about all the things we are grateful for in the past year and saying some prayers of gratitude. This is kept very simple and short as our children are young.
We then state our intention for the New Year and we each take a few sprouted wheat berries and plant them in a small pot of dirt. While we do this we simply say “May we have strength and abundant food.”
We then pass around each of the dishes and either take a taste of the item or a smell (cloves). We silently pass around each dish, each taking one. We then simply say “May we have…” followed by the blessing that the particular food represents as a sort of toast before we eat or smell what is in our hands. We simply end this ritual with each child blowing out a candle and then we eat our special Navroz dinner.
There are many other traditions associated with Navroz that would be easily applicable to those wanting to create a special Spring celebration. In most cultures who celebrate, Spring cleaning is an integral part of the month of March and the festival of Navroz. Practically and metaphorically, Spring cleaning serves to rid of us undesirables and ready our environments and ourselves for what is next. In my family, we do special cleaning chores in the week leading up to Navroz and try to really air out our home and free our surroundings of our collective dust.
Fire is also of great importance in many Navroz traditions, representing strength and enlightenment. We honor this with candles on our table at this time of year, one for each child as is the custom. I think a Spring bonfire would be a lovely tradition to start, too!
Persian traditions also include a special table or cloth on the floor of the main room of the house, set with the Haft-Sin, seven items beginning with the Persian letter for “s” as symbols having to do with Zoroastrian traditions:
Sabzeh, or sprouts of wheat or lentil, represent rebirth and good fortune
Samanu, a pudding made of wheat sprouts, represents sweetness and fertility
Seeb, or apple, represents health and beauty
Senjed, the fruit of the Lotus tree, represents love
Seer, or garlic, represents medicine
Somaq, or sumac berries, for the color of the sunrise
Serkeh, or vinegar, represents age and patience
We don’t use this exact list for the ritual I described above because so many of them are things that are not necessarily edible or palatable.
Also, there are often items on the special Navroz table that are meant to represent the elements and other blessings. There is often a mirror, symbolizing Sky, an orange in water for the Earth, candles for Fire, rosewater for Water, wheat or other sprouts for Plants, Goldfish for Animals (and the outgoing Pisces), Eggs (one for each member of the family) for Humanity and Fertility.
Hyacinth is a traditional flower to keep on the table display. There are usually coins for prosperity and the holy book of the family’s religion may be placed on the table as well.
There are many more lovely parts to this holiday that I have learned about in my research. It is an enjoyable holiday to learn about because it is steeped in different religions and cultures, also making this a celebration that is easily adaptable and accessible to anyone wanting to add a little celebration to mark the beginning of Spring.
Sarah Nanjee lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and two little ones. Besides homeschooling and homemaking, she loves to read, knit, sew, paint and create. She blogs about her life at The Serendipity.