Updated: May 4, 2018
I consider myself quite informed when it comes to current events, and I try to be conscientious about respecting other cultures. However, when I walked into math class earlier this week and was greeted with a table full of assorted objects and foreign foods, I was intrigued and surprised. My Algebra 2 teacher is from Iran and he brought with him his passion for math and his hometown traditions, one of which is Haft Sin, observed by most Iranians- Haft Sin is a thirteen-day period of reflection. It is believed that if one values reflection then he or she will travel to the conceptual realm.
However, before the official holiday begins, a ritual called Char Shanbeh Soori is practiced on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz; this year, it will be celebrated on the 13th of March. On this day, after the sun has set, brush is collected and brought into an open space where it is then lit on fire. One by one they jump over the flames, singing sorxi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az, which means:”Let your ruddiness be mine, my paleness yours.” This is considered to be a purifying ritual.
The thirteen days start on March 20th, and this day is also called Nowruz which translates in English to mean “New Year's Day festival.” On this day, a table cloth is spread across the floor (or table) called a sofra. The table is set up in the home, normally in a room meant for entertaining guests. Objects, each with their own significances, are displayed.
Haft Sin is also referred to as the “Seven S's.” This is because seven objects are displayed during these thirteen days, each one starting with the letter "s.” They are:
1. Seeb means apple and represents health and beauty.
2. Seer, or garlic, in Persian, represents medicine.
3. Somaq, or somac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun, the good conquers evil.
4. Serkeh is vinegar, which represents age and patience.
5. Sabzeh, or sprouts, (usually wheat or lentil) represent rebirth.
6. Samanu is a symbol of bravery.
7. Senjed represents love. It has been said that when the lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit makes people fall in love and oblivious to all else.
In addition to these seven objects, a mirror and bowl of small fish are displayed. The mirror is a physical reminder to reflect throughout the thirteen days. And lastly, the bowl of fish represents two things: the water is a symbol of the infinite nature of all beings and the fish represent the animal kingdom. Together, they represent connection with nature. My Algebra 2 teacher stressed profusely the importance of reflection. "Have you ever seen someone who has been married three times?" he asked me. I nodded my head, and, pointing to the mirror, he said, "They haven't taken the time to reflect upon themselves." It is said in Iranian culture that when one values reflection, he or she will rise to the conceptual realm- a higher level of thinking and understanding.
The 13th day of Haft Sin is called Seazdabedar. Most Iranians practicing this holiday- spend the day outside because it is thought that being outside prevents the evil spirits from catching them. At the end of the day, family members toss grasses into a creek or body of water, and if something in the water catches them, it's a symbol of good luck to come and the ceremonial end of Haft Sin.
What intrigued me most about this celebration is its separation from church and state. This holiday is neither religious nor a nationwide celebration throughout Iran and the other countries whose people practice it, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakistan, Kyrgyzstan and many others.