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What do the 2012 spring equinox, Nowruz, and Julie’s grandmother’s 84th birthday all have in common?  That’s right, they were all celebrated on March 20th.  With such grand new beginnings in the air, we decided to celebrate. Although we didn’t plan much of this in advance, we managed to successfully incorporate Nowruz traditions, welcoming the rebirth of spring, and celebrating a wise woman’s birthday.

First and foremost, let’s share the food portion!  One of the traditional meals for Nowruz is sabzi polo mahi, a rice dish with green herbs and fish. Our ingredients included basmati rice, potatoes for the tadik (the crispy bottom of the rice when cooked Persian-style), canned tuna, parsley, dill, cooked lentils, and a sprinkle of dried sumac.  We also prepared mast-o-khiar– yogurt with cucumbers and mint – another Persian favorite. Mast-o-khiar can be eaten alone or mixed in with your food.  We opted to mix it in! Dessert was embraced by eating the fragrant Persian saffron-rice pudding, sholeh-zard, and one of Julie’s favorite memories from being with her grandmother – ice cream!

sabzi polo mahi with mast-o-khiar

Up close and yummy!


What is the spring equinox (aka vernal or March equinox)?

An equinox occurs twice a year, when the center of the sun aligns with Earth’s equator. Around this time, the length of day and night are approximately the same.  (Not to be confused with equiluxes which are the days when sunrise and sunset are closest to 12 hours apart.)  The spring equinox welcomes longer days and symbolizes the arrival of spring. Spring = rebirth = new beginnings.

What is Nowruz (aka Persian New Year)?

Nowruz, meaning “new day” in Farsi, traces its roots back to the days of Zorastrianism. It is celebrated on the first day of spring, marked by the timing of the spring equinox.  It is the fist day of the new year on the Iranian calendar.

One tradition of bringing in Nowruz is to lay out a haft seen table which includes seven symbolic items starting with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi.

The Haft Seen traditional items are as follows, although we did have to improvise a bit:

1. sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing plants and rebirth:  We used fresh green herbs to symbolize rebirth and also ate cooked lentils.

2. samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence: Although we did not make samanu, we made another Persian dish – sholeh-zard. It is a saffron-rice pudding, starts with the letter ‘s’, and is gluten-free.

3. senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love: We did not have this although we had the dried fruit of grapes.

4. sīr – garlic – symbolizing medicine

5. sīb – apples – symbolizing Earth, beauty, and health

6. somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise: We had in its dried, crushed form.

7. serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience

Other common haft seen items that we included:

  • sekkeh – coins – representing wealth
  • ajeel – dried nuts, berries and raisins
  • lit candles – symbolizing fire, enlightenment, and happiness
  • a mirror – symbolizing the sky, purity, and honesty
  • rosewater – symbolizing water and believed to have magical cleansing powers
  • a poetry book: We read Rumi and Hafiz.

No matter where you are, there is always a way to improvise traditions and make it your own.  If you are missing an ingredient, no problem, find a substitute.  If there is more than one event happening, combine them. With a positive focus and good food, the outcome will be spectacular.  Welcome spring, happy birthday Grandma Nydam, and aidee shoma mobarak!