Haft Seen for Celebrating New Life and New Spring

Persian New Year is on March 20th this year, and as always, I set up my haft seen, or Nowruz sofreh–a presentation of 7 auspicious objects that start with the Persian letter “S.” I’ve written previously about this tradition, and why the celebration of the vernal equinox, the start of a new year, is such a meaningful custom. Nowruz is a secular holiday with Zoroastrian roots that is celebrated today by people of many different faiths not only in Iran, but in many other countries from Albania and Turkey to Afghanistan and India. Every community has its slightly different ways of marking the start of the new year, but what unites them is the celebration of life and renewal.

This year I’ve set up my haft seen quite early, during the last week of February, because I needed it as a reminder of hope and regeneration.

While Nowruz is an ancient holiday, haft seen is a modern addition that became popular in the last century. The seven items that start with “S” in Persian have positive significance:

  1. Seeb (apple), representing beauty
  2. Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
  3. Seer (garlic), representing health
  4. Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience and long life
  5. Sanbol (hyacinth), representing spring
  6. Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
  7. Samanu (sweet pudding made from sprouted wheat), representing fertility

Other possibilities include sumaq, a sour red spice that in this context means patience, and senjed, Persian olives that stand for tolerance. A candle, a flask of rosewater, a book of poetry or painted eggs are also common. I decorate my haft seen with flowers, Ukrainian painted eggs, a book of Hafez’s poetry, and sweets. I always include a plate of wheat sprouts, which are currently germinating in a sunny spot in my living room.

I’ve seen such a variety of haft seen that I can’t draw any generalizations. In Iran, haft seen is a display presented on a beautiful piece of cloth, with matching plates for every item. In Azerbaijan, haft seen is part of the dinner table set up closer to the holidays and it includes a big basket of wheat sprouts holding a colorful egg for each family member.  Either way, haft seen contains items that are auspicious and meaningful to the person who is setting it up.

Nowruz is my favorite holiday of the year for its message and spirit. The Shahnameh by the 11th century poet Ferdowsi attributes the celebration of Nowruz to the mythical King Jamshid, who saved humankind from a winter that intended to kill all living things. (Jamshid is also credited with inventing perfumery, among many other things.)

Of course, Nowruz is not only about haft seen. People clean their houses, visit their relatives and friends, and exchange gifts. Yet just looking at my colorful haft seen makes all of the negative thoughts vanish from my mind. I bid goodbye to the old year and anticipate the new one full of hope, beauty and peace.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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16 Comments

  • Marsha Smith: You always bring such beauty to our lives, Victoria! Thank you again. March 13, 2020 at 11:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Marsha! March 13, 2020 at 12:17pm Reply

      • Nina: Beautifully presented❤️ Aid shoma mobarak! March 15, 2020 at 11:48am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much! Eid shoma mobarak! March 15, 2020 at 12:14pm Reply

  • Ebrahim: Such depiction of hope and liveliness in the context of a long lived tradition is much needed in this strange and sad moments of what humankind is facing.
    ممنون ویکتوریا March 13, 2020 at 2:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: خیلی ممنون ابراهیم. دلم برای ایران می سوزه، و به تنها برای ایران.
      This is indeed such a beautiful and special tradition and maintaining it always makes me feel more hopeful and joyful. March 15, 2020 at 12:17pm Reply

  • Sharon LeClair: What a beautiful way to celebrate spring. I’m drawn to rituals that include an assemblage of objects. Some of the objects are personal and some acquire meaning through the years. March 13, 2020 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Very true. It’s like each object acquires its own patina. March 15, 2020 at 12:23pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Beautiful! I love the daffodils. March 13, 2020 at 6:19pm Reply

  • Aurora: I’m usually early too with my decorations and at Xmas I keep them until Epiphany, always.
    That yellow of the daffodils is so bright and cheerful and the little rug beautiful, and Persian New Year is such a joyful occasion. I remember it well as I had Iranian friends in London but haven’t celebrated since they moved. March 14, 2020 at 7:54am Reply

    • Victoria: We do it the same way, especially since the Ukrainian Christmas is in January. And then it feels so festive to have an apartment decorated. March 15, 2020 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Vivienne: Lived in Iran for five years and love haft seen settings..all the rushing about and children carrying their goldfish home! Yours looks lovely.
    Nowruz pirooz! March 14, 2020 at 11:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Nowruz pirooz!
      I also love the whole atmosphere around this holiday. March 15, 2020 at 12:33pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: The celebration of New Life and New Spring is especially relevant nowadays, with the corona virus making such an impact on the health and well-being of so many and everyday life of all, in Asia, Iran, Europe and many other places.
    I wish you, Victoria, and all readers good health, confidence and the best of luck! March 15, 2020 at 7:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I think so too! Persian New Year celebrates the vernal equinox, so it’s a holiday beyond borders and specific creeds. Learning about its Zoroastrian roots is fascinating and rewarding too.
      Stay healthy and safe! March 15, 2020 at 12:35pm Reply

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