Persian New YearCSA
I’m a bad Persian. I didn’t realize how bad of a Persian I was until I moved to LA which is often referred to, affectionately I’m sure, as Tehrangeles. To be fair, I’m only half Persian and my dad who is my Persian half was raised in Europe, not Iran. But when good LA Persians hear my very Persian first and last name and see me wearing the Faravahar they assume I speak Farsi (I don’t) and that I know something about Iranian and Persian culture, which is only sort of true. I’ve read up on it and took some classes in college but it certainly isn’t the same as growing up steeped in the day to day routine of being Persian.
I’ve never been to Iran because the paperwork required for a visit is a huge hassle. In order to visit I have to become a citizen of Iran and it requires a trip to Washington, DC and a whole host of original vital documents to be notarized and sent to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s doable but it’s also way easier to travel to other places. Just about any other place in fact. Up until now my dad has been slightly discouraging because it makes him nervous. He knows it will be a great experience once I get there and that I will have a fantastic time with our relatives who will no doubt take excellent care of me but he’s also nervous that something will happen when I try to enter or leave either Iran or the US. Because let’s face it, both governments are and have been for quite some time, at odds with each other.
In spite of all of this, I have submitted my application for citizenship and I’m hoping to visit Iran this year. A lot of people have asked me if our current president’s travel ban will have an impact on my being able to travel to Iran and the honest answer is that I don’t really know. I don’t think it will but this is all new territory so who really knows. Logistics of traveling aside, when the ban was announced it hit me hard emotionally. It felt like part of me wasn’t welcome here in my own country, that part of me didn’t belong, that part of me was unacceptable and it hurt. It hurt to think that members of my family, including my father, would be treated unfairly or harshly because of where they were born or that my trip, which would be a bit nerve wracking under regular conditions, potentially just got a little more complicated. A lot of people asked me if I was cancelling my trip but all of this travel ban business made me realize how much a part of me is connected to my Persian roots even though I don’t know much about them. It has actually strengthened my resolve to make this trip happen and connect to that side of my family.
So in preparation for this trip and to be a somewhat better Persian, I’ve been doing a lot of homework about Iranian history, culture and geography. It has also inspired me to celebrate one of the most important Persian holidays, Nowruz. Nowruz is the Persian New Year and falls on the same day as the Spring Equinox every year.
I didn’t grow up doing Nowruz at all. The extent of our celebration was when my dad would announce to us in the morning that it was Nowruz and we would all say “Happy Nowruz” to each other and then go on about our day. That. Was. It. However, this year I’ve decided to throw a little party at my house and do the best version of Nowruz that I can with the help of Wikipedia and Google searches. One of the most exciting parts for me is setting up the sofreh haft-seen for the occasion. The sofreh haft-seen is sort of like an altar or offering table that has 7 symbols for the New Year. Each item has a special significance and starts with the letter “Seen” from the Persian alphabet which sounds like “S” in English. The number 7 also starts with “Seen” in Farsi so it’s very thorough symbolism. From my research I found a few different items that could be used and I settled on these seven for my spread:
Sabzeh (Sprouts) represent Rebirth – Green sprouts growing in a dish. I tried sprouting radish, broccoli and spinach because they’d be good in a salad the next day but they did not sprout in time so it’s going to be sprouted beans from the Farmer’s Market!
Samanu (Sweet pudding) represents Affluence – This pudding is usually made from wheat germ. This doesn’t sound very good to me and it takes several days to make. I’m doing rice pudding instead.
Somaq (Sumac fruit) represents the colors of the Sunrise – I was stoked to find these at a small store near my house!!
Senjed (Wild Olive Fruit) represents Love – I could not find these nearby so I used dates instead… close enough.
Seer (Garlic) represents Health – This one was easy and it makes sense to me!
Seeb (Apple) represents Beauty – Also easy like garlic and we happen to have extra apples in the house.
Serkeh (Vinegar) represents Patience – I like this one a lot because I’ve tried to make vinegar before and it definitely takes patience.
There are also some other items that usually go on the table like painted eggs (Christians did NOT invent that!), goldfish in a bowl, hyacinth, a book of Persian poetry (Persians are big into their poetry), candles for each member of the family, coins as a symbol of wealth and more. From what I can tell, people tend to make it their own and I’m excited to do the same for ours.
There are some traditional dishes that are served for Nowruz and I definitely plan on making those. They are herbed rice with fish, a special kind of omelet called “kuku” with herbs in it and noodle soup because the noodles represent unraveling the difficulties in the year to come. There are a couple very traditional Persian dishes that I’ve never made before that part of me feels like I should make so that I can earn some Persian street cred. I have yet to make Fesenjan which is a walnut and pomegranate stew or Ghormeh Sabzi, a greens stew with kidney beans and lamb. One of the first things Persian men ask me is if I know how to make these dishes (groan, I know) and while I know I COULD, I never have. And guess what, this year ain’t gonna be the year either. Blood oranges are in full effect here in LA so I’m going to do a blood orange and chicken stew that will be seasonal and amazing. I don’t care if it’s not traditional for Nowruz because… I’m a bad Persian!!
After the food and the sofreh haft seen, I guess it’s just a dinner party right? This is the sort of awkward part of not being a good Persian. I am not really sure how this thing goes because I didn’t grow up with it! But it’s a start and I’m excited to have my first Nowruz party, Scheherezade style.