Volume 91, Issue 91

Friday, March 20, 1998

Lynn and Tonic


Celebrating Iranian New Year

Re: Persian New Year

To the Editor:
Of all the Persian national festivals, the New Year celebrations are the most important and colourful. This festival embodies a wealth of ancient rites and customs and is about the only one in Persia (Iran) which is not confined to the traditions of only one religious group. It symbolizes continuity of the ancient Persian culture which has survived so many adversities and vicissitudes.

The Now Ruz celebrations (pronounced know-rooz) stretches over a period of 13 days, the last being a special occasion calling for particular ceremonies. The period begins with the spring equinox, when the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Ram. At Now Ruz people join nature in making a fresh start, full of joy and hope for the coming year.

The origin of Now Ruz is traditionally attributed to Jamshid, the most glorious of the legendary kings of Iran. However, it may be safely assumed that the Now Ruz festival, essentially an agrarian celebration, owes its origin, at least in part, to the fertility cult so common among the ancient Near and Middle Eastern nations. Some of the customs observed at Now Ruz are reminiscent of Babylonian Zagmok, while others – like the growing of fresh green roots – bring to mind the Syrian cult of Adonis. But it is the ancient and Zoroastrian Persia which provides the background for most of the customs and ceremonies of Now Ruz.

The Achaemenian kings (550-330 B.C.) celebrated the New Year in the Royal palaces with great pomp and ceremony. Sumptuous receptions were held, and the envoys of the various nations living in the vast Achaemenian empire presented their tributes and gifts. This homage by the envoys has been vividly depicted in the sculptures of the palaces built by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes.

Today, while many of the ancient festivals have faded away in most parts of the country, Now Ruz remains a national Persian festival and its arrival brings joy to the hearts of Iranians, both within and without the homeland. Although many of the old customs and ceremonies, as recorded in history and travel books, have vanished with the lapse of time. What does remain makes Now Ruz the most fascinating of the Persian festivals, rich in folklore-like details and symbolic reminiscences.

The many graceful odes and sonnets concerning Now Ruz found in the Divans of the Persian poets bear witness to the ever-lively spirit and unbroken importance of the festival for the Iranian nation.

Professor Yarshater
Author of Encyclopaedia Iranica

To Contact The Opinions Department: gazoped@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998