Right after the last red and pink bag of Hershey’s kisses goes on clearance at Target, you’ll start to see the pastels of Easter come out. It’s around this time that Persians in America remember that Eid Norooz, otherwise known as Persian New Year, is on its way.
Norooz means “new day” in Farsi, and it’s always celebrated on the first day of spring. It’s the day I call my grandparents and extended family and wish them a Happy New Year. The I-don’t-have-time-to-talk-on-the-phone generation, which includes my cousins and friends, send text messages with stars and emojis; we’ve morphed the obligatory call into a text, and we’re cool with that.
Despite its roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, Norooz is a symbol of heritage and culture for Iranians of all faiths around the globe. For the Persian combo (Persian-American, Persian-Canadian, etc…), it’s one of the fun and accessible traditions that we millennials can get right, even our woven recognition of the holiday is similar to making a cake: it’s okay if we just add fresh ingredients to a Pillsbury mix–the result is always rewarding because at least we did it.
Firstly, Persians love a spread, and its evident if you’ve ever attended your Persian friend’s mom’s house for dinner. We even go all out for weddings with our sofreh aghd, a spread filled with crafty traditional symbols of which the bride and groom sit in front. Here’s my wedding sofreh from ten years ago:
For Persian New Year, though, the spread is called a sofreh haftsin (sofreh-ye haft-sinn (“cloth of seven dishes”); Figs and Quince explains it very well. This type of sofreh needs the following seven items (thanks, Huffington Post):
- sabzeh: lentil, barley or wheat sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing renewal
- samanu: a thick, sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence
- senjed: dried fruit of the lotus tree, symbolizing love
- sir: garlic, symbolizing medicine
- sib: apples, symbolizing health and beauty
- somaq: sumac berries, symbolizing sunrise
- serkeh: vinegar, symbolizing age and patience.
I was aware I needed to start making my fancy sofreh spread. It wasn’t until my friend posted a picture of herself jumping over a fire, another symbolic event that wishes enlightenment, happiness, and luck in the new year, that I got to work (all young Persian Millennials have this awkward moment when they tell their elementary school friends about jumping over fires. It’s especially strange because we don’t understand exactly why we’re jumping over a fire. Our parents just took us to the picnic, and we did what they did).
Every year since having kids, I modify my sofreh. One year it’s super traditional. One year it’s super small. This year, since I’m feeling very cottage in our new woodsy space, I did a basket-themed sofreh. I got my inspiration from here and did my own version.
The finished product, however, began with a school-night adventure.
Once we got to the crafts store, the kids had to use the restroom. Zade kept picking up huge, fragile glass eggs. Layla wanted every colorful spongy toy she could find and threw random items in the cart. Zade was running up and down the aisle and asking me if he could have the pez dispenser, then the candy thing with a fan on it, then this pen that yelled, “N0! NO! NOOO!” when he pushed the button.
At the register, I had to walk away from the cashier to collect Layla, and then Zade, and then Layla, and then Zade again. Finally, I paid and got the receipt from the patient cashier, and Layla moaned for the sixth time, “Mommy, I’m sooo hungry. I’m just so hungry…” I ended up scolding in Farsi whispers (she didn’t understand me, but she knows Farsi always comes out when I’m mad or embarrassed).
We had a drive ahead of us, so I got them Chikfila on the way home. I was driving with one hand and passing back ketchup with the other. I looked at the seat next to me; it was crowded with bags and Chikfila sauces and straw wrappers, and I thought, keeping up traditions is freaking messy job.
I tried to grin and bear it and begged the kids to smile for a quick car picture behind a red light on our way home. This was the only good shot I got out of lots of straight faces.
Then, we got stuck in awful traffic for an hour.
We came home late, threw bags on the table and painted eggs for the table setting. One of my Persian friends laughs at me because I feel wasteful to boil eggs only to paint and display them for two weeks. I always buy wooden eggs from the crafts aisle instead. This way I can keep eggs from previous years like some people keep special ornaments from their Christmas tree.
They painted their eggs. They got paint splatters over our newly-painted walls and globs of paint around the protective cover underneath them, so I had to scrub the hardwood floors when they finished. But we did it. There is a triumph in that, I think. Once the eggs dried, I placed them in the basket. My sofreh doesn’t have all the “s” items, but the fact that something is up and a memory is there is enough for me.
Our immigrant parents kept tradition alive because that’s all they knew; they missed their home; and they needed us to have some part of their past so they could recognize a part of themselves in us when we got older. Their millennial kids aren’t so different with their own children, but we don’t feel we have as much at stake. We’re comfortable celebrating Halloween and Christmas; it’s almost easy to forget about the stuff our parents snuck in there. It can feel like a real effort to make this pre-Easter event actually happen. Ultimately, something that’s not profound feels so helpful to remember: traditions take effort to make happen.
Sometimes holding onto culture when you’re far removed from its origin, and in my case having never been to the orient, is bittersweet. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing enough of what your parents did, but you try. We multicultural millennials have to remember that even salt has sugar in it. Both essential ingredients are distinct, but one cannot be without the other.
Happy weaving and trying. Happy Old and New, friends.