Spring Equinox

What does spring equinox mean to you? For many it conjures the image of flowers, bees, bunnies and sun (unfortunately more like rain in Portland). The season that arrives right before the much awaited summer. For Persians, spring equinox is the start of a new year and the time for celebration, family and traditions. Persian New Year, known as Norouz (meaning new day), is based on the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. The holiday has since lost its religious connotation but is still celebrated throughout the world each Spring and is deeply rooted in symbolic traditions.

MS1 classmates celebrating Persian New Year

This year Norouz fell on March 20 at 4:01 a.m. here in Portland, which marks the start of the year 1392 on the Iranian calendar. In preparation to welcome a new year of health and happiness, Iranian families begin spring cleaning of the home and prepare the traditional Haft-seen (7 S’s) table setting. In the minutes before 4:01 a.m. PST families worldwide would be taking pictures, hugging and kissing, and calling elders in their new Spring clothes. On the Tuesday night before Norouz, families welcome the new year in part by jumping over a bonfire while saying a chant translated as “I give you my disease and illness, and get your beauty and health.” Unfortunately for me as a first year medical student, I was studying for an exam during this first part of the holiday. While studying in the library, I decided that this new year was an opportunity to teach others about Norouz traditions. After hearing interest and wonderful support from my new classmates, I invited a few of them over for the traditional fish and rice dinner on the eve of the new year.

I came home from class on Wednesday to smells that have never been present in my apartment before. My parents had come to spend the week with me to celebrate my first Norouz as a medical student; they had spent all day preparing delicious food and setting up the Haftseen (table setting comprised of symbolic items). At 7 p.m., a small handful of my classmates trickled into my apartment and stood around the table where my mom explained the meaning of the Haft-seen and some of the items.

The term Haftseen, which literally means 7 S’s comes from the core of 7 items on the table setting that start with the letter S in Farsi: Seeb (apples), Sonbol (hyacinth), Seer (garlic), Serkeh (vinegar), Sabzeh (lentil sprouts), Somac (sumac fruit), and Senjed (dried oleaster). Listed below are some traditional Norouz items and their symbolic meanings.

Traditional Persian New Year table setting
Apples: for natural beauty and health
Hyacinth: for the coming of spring
Garlic: for medicine
Vinegar: for age and patience
Lentil sprouts: for abundance of nature
Sumac: for the color of the sunrise
Oleaster: for love
Goldfish: for life
Eggs (colored and decorated): for fertility
Mirror: to reflect on the past year
Coins: for prosperity
Pastries: for the sweetness of life


After we took pictures, we feasted on the delicious dinner and topped it off with tea, baklava, tiramisu and tres leche cake (thoughtfully brought by one of my classmates). At the end of the night, three of my classmates promised to host a Chinese New Year celebration next year so that we can learn about their traditions.

The night was a wonderful way to celebrate the Norouz with friends and family. I am excited to spend this year with great classmates and the promise of learning new things and having new experiences.

Here’s to a new year, Happy Norouz!


2 responses to “Spring Equinox

  1. Thank you Shabnam for sharing the beautiful tradition of Norouz. I first heard of the Persian New Year only this past weekend, while in conversation with an acquaintance of mine.

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