A major part of the New Year rituals is setting a special table with seven
specific items present, Haft Sin (Haft chin, seven crops before Islam).
In the ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven
creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are
changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items
start with the letter "S"; this was not the order in ancient times.
Zoroastrians today do not have the seven "S" but they have the ritual of
growing seven seeds. The ancient Iranians also grew seven seeds as a reminder
that this is the seventh feast of the creation, while their sprouting into
new growth symbolized the festival's other aspect as a feast of resurrection
and of eternal life to come.
Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days
before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (meaning green shoots). Decorated
with colorful ribbons it is kept till the last day and will be disposed off
on Sizdeh be dar, the 13th day while outdoors. A few live gold fish (the
most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days
they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep
them till they die. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a
symbol of fire. Zoroastrians today place the lit candle in front of the
mirror to increase the reflection of the light. Mirrors were significant
items in Zoroastrian symbolism art and architecture, and still are an
integral part of most Iranian celebrations including marriage ceremony.
They are used extensively in Iranian mystical literature as well and
represent self-reflection. All Iranian burial shrines are still extensively
decorated with mirrors, a popular decorative style of the ancient times.
Light is regarded as sacred by the Zoroastrians and the use of mirrors
multiplies the reflection of the light.
Wine was always present. Since the Muslim conquest it has been replaced
by vinegar since alcohol is banned in Islam. Egg a universal symbol of
fertility corresponding to the mother earth, Sepanta Armaiti is still
present. The eggs are hard-boiled and traditionally are colored in red,
green or yellow, colors favored by Zoroastrians. Recently following the
Easter Egg tradition, any color is used and they are elaborately decorated.
The eggs are offered to children as treats. Fresh garlic is used to warn
off bad omen. This is a modern introduction. There is no evidence that it
was used in this context before.
However the ancient Iranians would grow seven different herbs for the New
Year and garlic might have been one of those. Samano a thick brownish paste
is present today. It is a nutritious meal and could have been part of the
feasts. It is also possible that it has replaced Haoma. This is a scared
herbal mix known for its healing properties. It was a major cult on its own
with many rituals and ceremonies. The cult is still performed by the
Zoroastrians today, but is abandoned by the rest of the Iranians. Coins
symbolizing wealth and prosperity, fruits and special sweets and baked goods
are present as well.
(Courtesy of Massoume Price)
A few days prior to the New Year, a special cover is spread on to
the Persian carpet or on a table in every Persian household. This
ceremonial table is called cloth of seven dishes, (each one beginning
with the Persian letter cinn). The number seven has been sacred in Iran
since the ancient times, and the seven dishes stand for the seven
angelic heralds of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy,
patience, and beauty.
The symbolic dishes consist of:
- Sabzeh or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil representing rebirth.
- Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are
transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding and
represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking.
- Seeb means apple and represents health and beauty.
- Senjed the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus tree, represents
love. It has been said that when lotus tree is in full
bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love
and become oblivious to all else.
- Seer which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine.
- Somaq sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the
appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil.
- Serkeh or vinegar, represents age and patience.