Introduction to Nowruz
Nowruz (pronounced no-rooz) is a combination of two Persian words. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” Nowruz is the name for the celebrations that observe the New Year for many Persian and Central Asian communities. The exact beginning of the New Year occurs when the season changes from winter to spring on the vernal equinox, which usually happens on 20 or 21 March each year. The spelling of Nowruz in English can take many forms, including Noroz, Norouz, Nowruz, and Norooz. For this resource, we have used the spelling Nowruz. The festivities of Nowruz reflect the renewal of the Earth that occurs with the coming of spring. Activities that celebrate the arrival of Nowruz share many similarities with other spring festivals such as Easter, celebrated by Christians, and the Egyptian holiday called Sham Al-Naseem, which dates back to the time of the Pharaohs.

Historical Beginnings
Nowruz is a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years. It is a secular holiday that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths and as such can take on additional interpretations through the lens of religion. Nowruz is partly rooted in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism (bolded words are defined on pg. 7). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Persia (centered in what is now Iran). Today there are a few Zoroastrian communities throughout the world, and the largest is in southern Iran and India.

Persian Cultural Roots
People all over the world celebrate Nowruz, but it originated in the geographical area called Persia in the Middle East and Central Asia. The distinct culture based on the language, food, music and leisure activities that developed among the many people and ethnic groups who lived in this area is known as Persian. Nowruz became a popular celebration among the communities that grew from these Persian influenced cultural areas. While the physical region called Persia no longer exists, the traditions of Nowruz are strong among people in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada, and the United States. Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds. For the Parsi community, however, Nowruz is very special and is known as their spiritual New Year.

‘That’s something inbred, it’s a part of me. I will always walk around like a Persian popinjay.’
Freddie Mercury | Queen | Farokh Bulsara

Is it Persia, or Iran?
Often the words “Persia” and “Iran” are used interchangeably, but they mean different things. The word Persia comes from the Greek word Pars, which was used to describe the lands that stretched from the Indus Valley in present-day India and Pakistan to the Nile River in today’s Egypt. The Ancient Greeks called the people who lived in these areas ”Persians”. The word ”Iran” comes from Aryan, which was an ethnic label given to ancient peoples who migrated from the Indus Valley area towards Central Asia. In 1935, the state of Persia officially changed its name to Iran. Therefore, Iran is used to describing the contemporary country and its people, while Persia refers to the broader culture, many ethnic groups and an ancient history that some say goes back 3000 years. Persian is also the name for the language spoken by Iranians.

Rituals and Traditions
Nowruz is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Children have a fourteen-day vacation from school, and most adults do not work during the Nowruz festivities. Throughout the holiday period friends and family gather at each other’s houses for meals and conversation. Preparing for Nowruz starts a few weeks prior to the New Year with a traditional spring cleaning of the home. At this time it is also customary to purchase new clothing for the family and new furniture for the home.

Chahar Shanbe Suri: The Fire Jumping Traditions
On the night of the last Wednesday of the old year Chahar Shanbe Suri, in Persian, is celebrated. During the night of Chahar Shanbe Suri people traditionally gather and light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames shouting: “Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man” in Persian, which means, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.” With this phrase, the flames symbolically take away all of the unpleasant things that happened in the past year. Because jumping over a fire is dangerous, many people today simply light the bonfire and shout the special phrase without getting too close to the flames.

Tahvil: The Exact Moment of the New Year
Families return home after the events of Chahar Shanbe Suri and wait together for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs, in Persian called Tahvil. Today people know the moment of Tahvil through searching on the Internet or looking in the newspaper. However, before these sources of information were available, families knew that the New Year was close when a special person called Haji Firooz came to the neighborhood to sing, dance and spread the news of Nowruz. Haji Firooz is usually dressed in a red satin outfit with his/her face painted as a disguise. When the New Year is just minutes away families and friends gather together and wait for Tahvil to occur. Right after the moment of Nowruz, the family exchanges well wishes such as “Happy New Year” or “Sal-e No Mobarak!” in Persian. Next, the eldest in the family distributes special sweets and candies to everyone, and young children are given coins as presents. It is also traditional for families and neighbors to visit each other and exchange special gifts.

Haft-Seen Table: The Table of Seven S’s
The most important activity in the celebration of Nowruz is making the haft-seen table. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen is the Persian word for the letter S. Literally, the haft-seen table means a “table of seven things that start with the letter S’. Creating the haft-seen table is a family activity that begins by spreading a special family cloth on the table. Next, the table is set with the seven S items.

Here are some of the items and what they symbolize:
Sumac (crushed spice of berries): For the sunrise and the spice of life
Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree): For love and affection
Serkeh (vinegar): For patients and age
Seeb (apples): For health and beauty
Sir (garlic): For good health
Samanu (wheat pudding): For fertility and the sweetness of life
Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal of nature

In addition to these S items, there are other symbolic items that go on the haft-seen table, depending on the tradition of each family. It is customary to place a mirror on the table to symbolize reflection on the past year, an orange in a bowl of water to symbolize the Earth, a bowl of real goldfish to symbolize new life, colored eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, special flowers called hyacinths to symbolize spring and candles to radiate light and happiness. Each family places other items on the table that are special, for example, the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, or the Shahnameh, an epic Persian story of colorful kings and princes written around the year 1000 CE.


Another important item to place on the haft-seen table is a book of poetry by the famous poet Shams ud-Din Hafez. Hafez lived in Persian lands during the 14th Century CE and wrote many volumes of poetry and prose narratives. Many Persians consider Hafez to be their national poet, and his historical status is similar to the importance of Shakespeare in the English-speaking world.

Special Foods of Nowruz
Just like other cultural celebrations, many special foods are prepared during Nowruz, depending on the country of origin. One of these dishes, ash-e resteh or noodle soup, is typically served on the first day of Nowruz. This soup is special because the knots of noodles symbolize the many possibilities in one’s life, and it is thought that untangling the noodles will bring good fortune. Another Nowruz dish is called sabzi pollo mahi (fish served with special rice mixed with green herbs). The rice is made with many green herbs and spices, which represent the greenness of nature at spring. Special sweets are also served during Nowruz. Traditional items include naan berenji (cookies made from rice flour); baqlava (flaky pastry sweetened with rosewater); samanu (sprouted wheat pudding); and noghl (sugar-coated almonds).

The Final Day of Nowruz: Sizdeh Bedar
The haft-seen table remains in the family home for thirteen days after the beginning of Nowruz. The thirteenth day is called Sizdeh Bedar, which literally means in Persian “getting rid of the thirteenth.” The celebrations that take place on Sizdeh Bedar are just as festive as those on the first day of Nowruz. On this day, families pack a special picnic and go to the park to enjoy food, singing and dancing with other families. It is customary to bring new sprouts, or sabzeh, grown especially for this occasion. At the park, the green blades of the sabzeh are thrown on the ground or in a nearby river or lake to symbolize the return of the plant to nature. Sizdeh Bedar marks the end of the Nowruz celebrations, and the next day children return to school and adults return to their jobs.

Germination: The process whereby seeds or spores sprout and begin to grow.
Parsi: A member of a contemporary Zoroastrian religious group. Parsis live mainly in southern Iran, India and Pakistan, and there are communities in Canada and the United States.
Shahnameh: Written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around the year 1000 CE. Literally the “Book of Kings”, it is a long narrative that tells the story of the history of Persia from its earliest beginnings to the seventh century CE.
Shams ud-Din Hafez: Popular and widely revered poet who lived from 1320 to 1390 CE. His book of poetry, called the Divan of Hafez, is an important part of many Nowruz activities.
Qur’an: The sacred book of Islam, believed to be a compilation of the words of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Vernal Equinox: The time when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the earth and occurring about 21 March (vernal equinox or spring equinox) and 22 September (autumnal equinox) each year.
Zoroastrianism: The religious system founded by Zoroaster, believed to be a prophet living in Persian lands in the sixth century BCE. It is recorded in the Avesta, or ancient scriptures, which teach the worship of a deity called Ahura Mazda. One of the main principles of religion is the universal struggle between the forces of light and darkness, or good and evil.

International Nowruz Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/64/253 of 2010, at the initiative of several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition observed by numerous peoples, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities.

Nowruz is the Persian, or Iranian, spring celebration of the New Year. It’s the most important festival of the year in Iran, and it’s a public holiday there and in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania and other countries in South and Central Asia. It’s a happy occasion, and there may be as many as 13 days’ holidays from school!

The Persian New Year and The Spring Equinox

Nowruz marks the first day of spring and begins at the exact day, hour and minute of the spring equinox when night and day are of equal length. This is usually on 21 March. It’s the day when winter changes into spring, and it feels like a new beginning.

Spring cleaning

People prepare for Nowruz by cleaning the whole house, and everyone in the family helps out. Carpets, windows, and curtains are cleaned. Anything broken is repaired or replaced. Silverware is polished. The house is decorated with flowers. By doing this spring cleaning, people wash away the bad things from the previous year and prepare for better things to come in the new year. They also put on brand new clothes to symbolize a fresh start.

Fire jumping

In the evening of the last Wednesday before Nowruz, bonfires are lit and people jump over the flames. The flames burn away sickness and bad luck.

Nowruz and the seven Ss [Haftseen]

It’s important to start the year well: clean, smart, relaxed, happy and surrounded by loved ones. So, just before Nowruz, the whole family comes together. They celebrate around a special table in their house. It’s called the haftseen, which means ‘seven Ss’. On it, there are seven special objects, all of which begin with the ‘s’ sound in the Farsi language and which symbolize something. There are actually more than seven, but here are some of the most common.

Mythical and Historical Origins of Nowruz

Nowruz is the Persian name of the Iranian new year or Persian new year consisting of two words; Now or no meaning new and ruz or rooz meaning day, which when put together means new day . This celebration and its associated events have been celebrated for thousands of years by the people of Iran and the people of Central Asian countries, former parts of ancient Persian empires. Nowruz emerged as people of these areas of the world left the nomadic life and established settlements which started a new phase in human civilization. Today, it is the world’s only event which is celebrated at the exact same moment throughout the world. The celebration is not connected to religion and is based on astronomical celestial events even though Nowruz is deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion.

In 1725 BC, the world’s first philosopher and prophet of the Zoroastrian religion named Zarathushtra, improved the ancient Indo-Iranian calendar. The Zoroastrian year starts with this date. Zarathushtra established an observatory in the modern day province of Sistan in southeastern Iran and with his knowledge in astronomy he was able to establish a solar calendar consisting of 365 days, 5 hours and 48 minutes.

During the 6th century BC, the magush who were the priests of the Zoroastrian fire temples, acted both as fire keepers and astronomers. These priests calculated the spring equinox of the northern hemisphere to occur on March 20 or 21 and this date marked the first day of the Persian solar calendar. The priests were closely associated with the events at the city of Parsa, also known as Persepolis. This city, founded by the Persian king Darius the Great in 515 BC, was the ceremonial capital city of the Achaemenid Persian empire and the spring residence of the kings. The kings invited noblemen from all of the provinces of the empire to Persepolis, regardless of ethnicity and religious beliefs, to celebrate Nowruz. During the morning hours, priests prayed and performed rituals which were followed by feasts and entertainments in the evenings and nights. Even to this day, one can see the ruins of the royal palaces with reliefs depicting governors and ambassadors bringing precious gifts to the King of Kings and paying homage to him.

During the reign of the Sassanid kings between 224 – 651 AD, preparations began 25 days before Nowruz. Craftsmen and builders of the royal court constructed twelve mud-brick columns and various seeds were sown on top of each column. Each column was symbolic and represented a month. By the time it was Nowruz, the seeds had grown into majestic decorative plants. The king held a public speech in front of a noble audience followed by greetings from the highest priest of the empire. Government officials also greeted the king. Every invited person gave a gift to the king until the sixth day of Nowruz, when members of the royal family visited the royal court. During Nowruz, an official amnesty was put in order for convicts of minor crimes. People throughout the empire celebrated this event for thirteen days.

Even though Nowruz is a celebration of a celestial event, it is deeply rooted in the mythology of the Persians. Nowruz focuses on the philosophical aspects of light conquering darkness, good conquering evil, the warmth of spring conquering the cold winter. According to ancient mythical stories written in the Persian epic Shahnameh, Nowruz was introduced during the reign of the mythical king named Jamshid. Jamshid defeated the evil demons and made them his servants as he captured their treasures and jewels. He then became the ruler of everything on earth except the heavens, while the world was devastated after the war between him and the demons. The trees were dead and had lost all their leaves. Earth had turned into a dark and lifeless place. For reaching the heavens, Jamshid ordered the demons to build him a throne made out of the jewels he had captured. When the throne was finished, he sat on it and commanded the demons to lift him high up into the sky. As he was sitting on his throne, sun rays hit the jewels of his throne and the sky was illuminated with all the world’s colors. The rays beaming from Jamshid revived all trees and plants and turned them green and full of leaves. Life on earth began to thrive as Jamshid rose like the sun. People were amazed by the sight of Jamshid and overwhelmed him with even more treasures and jewels. This day of celebration was named Nowruz and it marked the first day of the year. Jamshid later rescued his people from a harsh winter that would have killed all creatures on earth. Mythological survival stories with Jamshid as the main character is considered to be mythical symbols regarding the historical events of when Indo-Iranian Aryans abandoned their neolithic lifestyles as hunter-gatherers and became settlers on the Iranian mainland. Settlements were profoundly dependent on their crops and in turn dependent on the outcome of the seasons. The spring equinox, therefore, marked an important event in the lives of ancient Iranians.

Celebrating the New Year on the Silk Roads

Nowruz is a rite dating back to at least the 6th century BCE, marking the new year and ushering in spring. Variously known as Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz or Nevruz, this historic rite is observed on 21 March in many countries along the Silk Roads, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

International Nowruz day is celebrated by peoples of many different religions and cultures represented in the united nations general assembly. Some of the festival’s earliest origins lie in Zoroastrianism, marking one of the holiest days in the ancient Zoroastrian calendar. The return of the spring was seen to have great spiritual significance, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and joy over sorrow. In particular, the Spirit of Noon, known as Rapithwina, who was considered to be driven underground by the Spirit of Winter during the cold months, was welcomed back with celebrations at noon on the day of Nowruz according to Zoroastrian tradition.

Nowruz is also associated with a great variety of local traditions, including the legend of Jamshid, a king in Persian mythology. To this day in Iran, Nowruz celebrations are sometimes known as Nowruze Jamshidi. According to the myth, Jamshid was carried through the air in a chariot, a feat that so amazed his subjects that they established a festival on that day. Similar mythological narratives exist in Indian and Turkish traditions, while the legend of Amoo Nowrouz is popular in the countries of Central Asia.

Over the last millennium, Nowruz has developed and expanded, incorporating new social, religious and cultural influences as it spread along the Silk Roads. Its date, originally calculated according to ancient astronomical practices, was revised and recalculated on numerous occasions in the 11th and 12th centuries as Nowruz continued to be a celebration of great social significance under various rulers and regimes. Renowned Muslim scholars, such as Abu Rayhan al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), Mahmud Kashgari (1005-1102), and Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) are among the many intellectuals who studied the date of Nowruz.

Although The traditions and customs that accompany the celebration of Nowruz vary from country to country, there are many unifying features. In most regions, symbolic preparations fire and water take place before the festival, and ritual dances involving leaping over fires and streams are performed. In Iran, these dances take place on the last Wednesday before Nowruz, known as Chārshanbeh Sūrī or Chārshanbeh-e Ātash, while in Azerbaijan, this practice is carried out over the four Wednesdays preceding the celebrations. In many places, households fill up their supplies of water on the last Wednesday of the year, and in Kyrgyzstan, all vessels in the house are to be filled on Nowruz Eve, in the hope that this will bring abundance in the new year and keep away misfortune. It is also customary across most regions to visit cemeteries before the Nowruz celebrations begin, with visitors bringing candles and offerings to remember the dead. Two candles are commonly placed at the door to the house on Nowruz Eve in Kazakhstan. In Azerbaijan, the dead are commemorated on the second day of Nowruz, known as the “Day of Fathers”.

On the day of Nowruz, there is much feasting, visiting family members and friends, and exchanging gifts. A wide range of cultural performances and traditions also take place. Children are often given small toys, and traditionally play with colourfully painted eggs. Families and within communities share a symbolic meal, often consisting of cooked rice and vegetables combined with many local ingredients. In Kyrgyzstan, this meal is a public ceremony, with designated areas set aside in towns for the preparation of Nooruz Kedje or Chon Kedje , a type of soup made from bull’s meat.

One widespread tradition which dates back to 3,000 years ago is the preparation of a Nowruz table “haft sin table”, on which a number of symbolic objects are placed. While these tables differ slightly from region to region, the most common features are: water, candles, dishes of green sprouts (or Sabzeh), a traditional dish made out of crushed wheat sprouts, mirrors, eggs, and various fruits. These objects symbolise purity, brightness, abundance, happiness and fertility for the new year. In Iran, the table is referred to as the “Sofreh-ye Haft Sin”, and displays seven objects, each starting with the letter ‘S’. A similar table is set in areas of India.

Tirgan Nowruz Festival is proud to welcome Ali Azimi to Toronto. This concert is part of Nowruz Festival 2019 and will be held at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. With great pleasure and enthusiasm, we invite you to join us for another wonderfully memorable night with Ali Azimi.

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran. Ali Azimi -musician, guitarist, singer and songwriter- began his interest in music at a young age. Coming from a musical family, he self-learned to play the Piano and studied classical guitar with Bagher Moazen. In his early 30’s, after years of work and study in the field of Mechanical Engineering, Ali Azimi set aside his work as an engineer in the UK and began to follow his passion for music. The song “33” from the album, Mr. Mean and the song Tatilat, from Radio Tehran album, are both based on this experience. During the same time, Ali founded his own production company Sakkou, which documented underground Iranian music to help promote his fellow musicians who are unable to freely express their love for music in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

After quitting his engineering career Ali Azimi went to Iran and in the year 1388 (2009) and formed the Iranian rock band Radio Tehran. Leading this new band, Ali recorded the album 88. Touching on the issues of the young Iranians, the album gave a fresh sound and perspective within the Iranian alternative music scene. Departing from his previous band, Ali Azimi’s first solo album, Mr. Mean, was released in October 2013. This album includes major hit songs such as “Prelude”, and “Aghaye Past”. The music video for the song “Mr. Mean” was a first prize winner at Farhang Foundation’s short film festival.

“His album ‘Of Love and Other Demons’ recounts a character-driven, love-hate relationship story based on the artist’s real-life experiences from the very first track to the last. The album borrows its title from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s renowned book (with the discrepancy in ideology), which the artist has an affinity with since adolescence. His lyrics are immensely influenced by contemporary poets such as Shamloo and Taha Mohammad Ali (Palestinian poet) as he doesn’t actually relate to classical Persian poetry, finding them much exaggerated in the manner of expression and lacking honesty. Azimi has composed his recent pieces in a way that ‘sound more Iranian’ due to his experiences combined with the contributions of the featured musicians, ‘resulting in innovation in its kind’. Moreover, the new album (which will debut over the span of two years) has paved the way for a collaboration between British and Iranian musicians both inside and outside the country; an aspiring project whose fate predominantly depends on crowdfunding and support for its survival.”

Ali Azimi in Nowruz Festival