I can admit to being biased when I say that Persian New Year and its celebrations are symbolic and evocative of all of the best things in life. Think about it—it's all about delicious food, the coming of spring (and its gorgeous weather and verdant greens), a fresh start, wishes for a long life, and a celebration of family and friends, and those who enrich our lives.
A very ritualistic holiday, Persian New Year or Norooz is a lot more than just an excuse to eat. The first step to preparing for the vernal equinox is a deep clean of the house from top to bottom, not just to start the year off on fresh footing, but to prepare for all of the guests and visitors that will cross its threshold in the coming weeks for celebration. This cleaning, or khane tekani, kicks off a few weeks before the actual new year, and can be as hands-on of a process as handwashing your rugs and hanging them up to dry, cleaning out your closets and donating that which doesn't fit or spark joy in you anymore, or simply dusting off your countertops and cabinets.
Whether you celebrate or not, do what you can to prime your space, whatever its shape or size, for the beginning of a beautiful new spring. I view khane tekani as more than just the ho-hum of spring cleaning, but as a symbolic reminder to (literally, in this case) ditch your baggage and leave behind the clutter and frustrations of the year past with an open, clean mind and home.
In the days and weeks that follow khane tekani, there is plenty more to do before ringing in the new year: buying new clothes (I've always assumed this part of the tradition was simply to start off the year on your best foot—stylin'—this may not be true, but I will maintain it so that I can have an excuse to stay stylin’); growing sabzeh (sprouted greens, a visual reminder of what's to come in spring); putting aside eidee (usually a small sum of money or coins) for children in your family; and setting the haft sin.
Haft sin's literal translation is essentially "Seven S's.” We'll get to those s's in a minute, but first, you should know that the haft sin is a table setting of sorts, strewn with specific objects which hold symbolic meaning for the new year ahead. Similar to the way one might decorate a tree in the weeks leading up to Christmas, those who celebrate Persian New Year (which is celebrated far and wide, and not just in Iran) prepare for the impending equinox by setting up a traditional spread that evokes the spirit of the holiday. It doesn't truly feel like Norooz without a haft sin around; setting it up is a bright gesture, a reminder to your home and those who enter it that there is something worth celebrating right around the corner.
When I refer to the haft sin as a table setting, you might think of an actual dining table, stacked with plates, napkins, and forks. It is, in fact, not the kind of table setting you'd eat off of, but more of a separate entity of its own. I'd liken it to an altar of sorts, where there's less consumption of ingredients so much as a celebratory display of them. When it comes to preparing your haft sin and picking which items to include, there are actually more than just seven symbolic items starting with the letter "s" to choose from. I love this visual by blogger Fig and Quince:
I stick to some of the simple things that are easy for me to find (and fit!) in New York City: somaq (sumac), seer (garlic), serkeh (vinegar), sabzeh (sprouts), sonbol (hyacinth), sekkeh (coins), and seeb (apple). I like the way a haft sin looks with a few extra additions—a mirror, a holy book or book of poetry, a few candles or painted eggs, and my favorite, goldfish.
There are about as many ways to set up a haft sin as there are people who celebrate Norooz (we're looking at folks in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and more), and I think there's something so interesting about the way different people in different homes balance their personal style alongside tradition, and even a modern touch. Haft sins happen to be one of those few things that you might be as likely to find on a table in Detroit as you would nestled in a corner in Turkey.
Consider some of the haft sins below a little inspiration for you should you decide to set your own this year, or if you aren't celebrating the Persian New Year, a beautiful reminder that spring will soon be here.
A classic spread—with a touch of whimsy from the addition of the googly eyes on the egg!
Fans of turquoise will be partial to this organized spread.
A little '70s kitsch, bright, and floral: This one is my personal favorite.
A haft sin fit for Instagram.
A serene haft sin that feels very Food52 to me.
The doodle here adds a little je ne sais quoi.
Painstakingly painted eggs.
More amazing egg people.
Bakers looking for a challenge will enjoy this cake modeled after a haft sin! Next level.
Do you celebrate Norooz? Tell us how you welcome spring into your home!