Celebrating the Persian tradition of Nowruz [student blog]

My name is Emily, and I’m a fourth year Criminology and Sociology student who’s originally from London. The University of Stirling has around 120 nationalities represented on campus, and with that comes lots of opportunity to learn about different cultures and experience new things!

Homesickness is something that a lot of students are worried about — whether you’re moving across the country like me or are coming to Stirling from halfway across the globe. That’s why it’s really important to make Stirling your home away from home.

When you first arrive, there’s a lot going on and it can seem overwhelming. But try and get stuck in as much as you can. All the activities and new people you meet will keep your mind off missing home.

Make sure that you decorate your new room to really make it feel like home and a place where you’ll be comfortable. Finally, make sure that you call your friends and family often! They want to hear what you’ve been up to, and regular catch-ups help ease the feelings of homesickness that you might feel.

But another way to make Stirling your home away from home is to make sure that you celebrate all the traditions you would at home — even if you can’t make it back to your home for the holiday.

That being said, this year my boyfriend and I decided to celebrate the Persian tradition of Nowruz for the first time. Although I’m British, my boyfriend is Persian — and so this year we decided we wanted to go all out and celebrate as much as we could!

It’s been a long time since he’s celebrated it properly, and I was excited to experience something new. Nowruz is the Persian new year, and falls on the first day of Spring. It’s celebrated in Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India as well as a variety of other places.  Along with the day itself, it is celebrated for 13 days after, which is traditionally a time to visit friends and family.

Decorating for Nowruz

First up, we had to decorate. This involved creating our haft-sin table — for those who haven’t heard of it before, it’s the main decoration for the celebration. I’d kind describe it as the the Christmas tree of this holiday!  

There are seven items that you need to create the haft-sin table, which in Farsi all begin with ‘s’. They are:

  • Sabzeh – wheatgrass or lentil sprouts grown in a dish
  • Samanu – a sweet pudding
  • Senjed – dried Russian olives
  • Seer – apple
  • Seeb – garlic
  • Sumac – a crushed spice
  • Serkeh – vinegar

All of these are placed on the ‘sofreh’, which is the special cloth you can see on the table in the photo.

Along with the seven items, it is also traditional to have flowers, eggs, a candle, coins, a goldfish and a mirror. Although we were missing a few items, we were pretty pleased with what we managed to put together. All of these items also have a symbolic meaning and represent something you want to bring into the new year (such as wealth and health).

Preparing food

Next up is the part that I was probably most excited for: the Persian food and sweets!

Pictured in the box are the Persian sweets we bought specially for Nowruz. These are traditional sweets and can only be found around the time of Nowruz. We bought them from a lovely Persian café in Edinburgh called the Konj Café, and travelled to Edinburgh just to pick them up in time for the new year.

It was my first time trying most of them and they were delicious. I could have easily eaten this whole box on my own in a day!

Traditionally, for the new year meal it’s quite common to have a fish dish. But we decided to attempt to make tahchin and I was really impressed with how it turned out! This is a saffron rice and chicken dish topped with barberries. It takes a lot of skill to make sure it comes out in one piece, and it was very delicious!

We counted down to the new year and overall had a really lovely day celebrating! There are lots of other traditions associated with Nowruz, which I didn’t have the chance to include here.

But it was great to experience something new, as well as my boyfriend being able to honour a tradition from home in our home away from home: Stirling.

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