More than 300 million people are celebrating Nowruz

The 13-day Persian New Year celebration begins on the first day of spring

People wear a protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk at the Grand bazar, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 19, 2020 (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)
People wear a protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk at the Grand bazar, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 19, 2020
(photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)
Nowruz is the Persian New Year, an ancient cultural celebration in which millions of people around the world celebrate the beginning of spring.
For more stories from The Media Line go to themedialine.org
The 13-day holiday celebration begins on the first day of spring. The Iranian calendar is a solar calendar, meaning time is determined, through astronomical observations, by the Earth's movement around the sun. So, the first day of the year always kicks off with the natural phenomenon of the vernal equinox, which this year was on March 20.
Even though it is referred to as an Iranian new year, it is not exclusive to Iran as other countries celebrate the festival. Nowruz has its roots in Iran and originates from Zoroastrianism, but it is celebrated by different ethnic and religious groups.
The UN has praised Nowruz for promoting "peace and solidarity.”
Nowruz, which literally translates to "new day" in Persian, is a mostly secular holiday in Iran, as well as in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Families, which gather together to observe the rituals of the holiday, ring in the new year around a Haftsin table, one of several holiday customs during the Nowruz festive period, which also include house cleaning, visiting family and friends, and decorating the house with flowers and beautiful objects.
Haftsin, or Haft Seen, is the special table for Nowruz. The table contains seven items that start with the Persian letter S; Haft is the Persian word for seven.
Every item symbolizes something positive for the coming year:
Sumac, which is the crushed spice of berries, symbolizes the sunrise on the spice of life;
Senjed, which is sweet, dry fruit of the lotus tree, symbolizes love and affection;
Serkeh, which is vinegar, symbolizes patience and age;
Seeb, which are apples, symbolize health and beauty;
Sir, which is garlic, symbolizes good health;
Samanu, which is wheat pudding, symbolizes fertility and the sweetness of life;
Sabzeh, which is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizes rebirth and the renewal of nature.
March 21 was officially recognized in 2010 as International Nowruz Day by the United Nations at the request of countries including Afghanistan, Albania, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most celebrations this year are being kept to close family at home, or virtual.
Iranian leaders on Saturday, the first day of this year’s Nowruz celebrations, promised better times ahead for their people hit hard by economic hardship due to crippling US sanctions and the coronavirus.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the new year would be one of "production, support and the elimination of obstacles," while the upcoming national election also makes it "important and sensitive.”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, whose second term ends in June, said the past year was "the worst in 60 years in terms of oil revenues," but he promised improvements, saying the economy is bouncing back.
"In the 42 years since the victory of the (Islamic) revolution, I cannot recall a year as hard and difficult as 1399 regarding economic constraints," Rouhani added, referring to the year on the Persian calendar.
But the new year will see "wide access to vaccines and the coronavirus being brought under control, and the end of sanctions following three years of resistance,” he added.
Nowruz "promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families," the United Nations says. It's a time of reconciliation and neighborliness, "contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities."
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley @USEnvoyIran tweeted: “Wishing all who are celebrating #Nowruz a year of health, hope & prosperity. May this year lead Iran & the United States on a path to constructive engagement based on mutual interest, and may we strengthen the ties between the American and Iranian people. Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak!”