“Greeting our guests by sprinkling drops of rose water on each shoulder and the saying ‘May your whole year go smiling and bright’ is, of course, my favourite part of Nowruz,” exclaims Renaz. “I love repeating that saying and wishing everyone well as they enter our home for Nowruz festivities, it’s one of my favourite things.”
As an ancient celebration rooted in Zoroastrian tradition, ‘Nowruz’ meaning ‘new day,’ is a spirited holiday that rallies friends and family together over an abundant feast to celebrate the vernal equinox - where the day and night are equal - and marks the beginning of spring in Persian cultures.
(A Traditional Sofreh Haft-Sin at set up in Renaz’s home)
“This is the day when nature and the entire universe rejoices,” Renaz adds laughing “For us, Nowruz is just as big as Christmas - maybe even bigger!”
As with most, the lack of in-person events and festivities over the last 2 years is not lost on Renaz and her family. A proper celebration of any kind hasn’t taken place outside of their household, so this year they are excited to celebrate with splendour.
“Usually we would open our home only to close friends and family to celebrate, but this year we’re making it extra special,” Renaz tells us. “We will be hosting Nowruz through the Zoroastrian Association of Alberta and welcoming the whole community to come and celebrate - right now we know of 37 people attending.”
Depending on who you speak with and what region they’re from, you’ll find subtle variations in tradition surrounding Nowruz, but the overall message and wishes of abundance and prosperity through a gathering and bountiful feast remain the same. Renaz and her family stick to their traditional Parsi customs and Zoroastrian rituals - but they always add a few personal twists (mostly food dishes) that they’ve adapted into their festivities over the years.
Preparations begin with spring cleaning as they begin to gather all of the symbolic items to set up their ‘Sofreh Haft-Sin,’ which include 7 objects laid out on a mantel or a table covered with a white linen table cloth. These 7 items all start with ‘S’ and ‘SH’ and each represents a Persian concept that offers symbols of good health, prosperity and abundance from the ‘Seven Eternal Laws’ from the teachings of the Prophet Zarathustra.
“For our Haft-Sin we will be setting it with Sharab (Wine), Shahd (Honey), Shakar (Sugar), Sherbet, Shirini (Candy), Shir-berenj (Rice Pudding) Shama (Candle),” says Renaz. “For the ‘S’ items we will be using Samanu (Sweet pudding made from wheat flour), Seer (Garlic), Seeb (Apple), Senjed (Dried fruit), Sabzeh (wheatgrass grown in our home), Serkeh (Vinegar), and Somaq (powered cherry).”
“On the table I also usually include Gaaz, it’s a typical Iranian dried sweet, similar to halva,” Renaz tells us. “It’s not usually included, but it’s one of my favourites so I always sneak it in.”
Additionally, they include a pomegranate that signifies fertility, prosperity and growth due to its abundance of seeds with dried fruit, a banana, watermelon and oranges.
“Painted eggs are also common to find on a Haft-Sin so I always put out my painted eggs along with the Avesta (our Holy Book), and a photo of Zarathrustha the Prophet. My mother also adds naan and paneer because none of the ‘S’ and SH’ items are typically eaten - they're symbolic to encourage rebirth, prosperity and happiness for the year.”
Of course the festivities wouldn’t be complete without a delicious spread to celebrate this new season. For lunch they dine on Persian Dal (yellow lentils) with fish sauce and steamed rice, but dinner is where the feast truly takes place.
“We prepare so many delicious dishes, they are all my favourites,” exclaims Renaz. “We prepare chicken Biryani, which is chicken marinated in spices with basmati rice, saffron, and greens layered and baked in the oven.”
Fish covered in green chutney wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, spicy lentils, kababs, salads, butter paneer (cottage cheese), Falooda, desserts, cakes and so much more, Renaz adds.
Honoured in unison with nature, Nowruz is truly a celebration that embraces the new; offering good wishes, happiness and prosperity to all as we enter into spring. Many dress in new clothes as they gather on this day to mark its significance - a tradition Renaz remembers fondly from her childhood back in India.
**Unfortunately, some members of the community tested positive for COVID-19 and this event was unable to take place in-person. We spoke to Renaz as she was preparing for the festivities prior to its cancellation.