In my family, Norooz—the Persian New Year—has always been the most important day of the year. My mom starts preparing for it a whole month ahead. This includes a deep spring cleaning called khooneh tekooni, which literally means “house shaking”; buying new clothes for every family member; growing wheat sprouts (sabzeh); stocking up on all of the nuts (ajil), including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and sometimes pepitas; and, of course, setting the Norooz table (Haft-seen).
A Feast for the New Year
One of my favorite aspects of Norooz is the array of special dishes we make and eat, most with fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and dill to signal and celebrate the arrival of spring. We always have:
- Sabzi polo: herb rice
- Kuku sabzi: herb frittata
- Stuffed whole fish
- Qottab: walnut-filled pastry
- Shirini keshmeshi: raisin cookies
- Ash reshteh: noodle soup with fresh parsley, spinach, and legumes (a double batch, because leftovers always taste better)
- Nan panjereh: Persian rosettes (a recipe that's been in our family for generations)
The start of the new year, for me, means making and enjoying these dishes with the people I love. The smell of freshly chopped herbs and fried onion, the sound of water pouring into a bowl for rice washing, the sight of fingers moving fast to fill pastries with walnuts and cardamom—all telltale signs not only that Norooz is coming, but that a new beginning is on the horizon as well.
A New Beginning
When I met my husband, Kyle, I told him everything about Norooz. How we celebrate the first day of spring as the start of a new year and how we always spend it with family. Kyle now loves Norooz as much as I do, and that’s a blessing (I mean, who wouldn't? Did you see the food?). After marrying him and moving to the United States, I knew we had to figure out a way to be with my family every year for the holiday—and that it wasn't going to be easy.
Being from Iran, it has never been easy to obtain an American visa. Especially since 2017, it's been nearly impossible for Muslim families to reunite in the U.S. The only way for me to be with my parents is for all of us to meet in Istanbul. It’s not easy or cheap, but we’ll do it for as long as we have to because, for us, Norooz is sacred, and there's no substitute for family. Since moving to the States, I’ve broken many traditions, but this is one I'd never break.
Every year, around the second week of March, my heart starts beating faster and I long for that first blossom on the trees. Kyle and I sort out our Norooz plans and start packing, and when I get on the plane to Istanbul, my heart feels so full and excited, knowing that I'll get to spend yet another Persian New Year with my folks and show my soulmate how these days are about togetherness, hope, and new beginnings.
The days we spend in Istanbul with my family are precious. We prepare for Norooz just like we used to when I was a kid: My maman starts growing wheat sprouts, and we set the Haft-seen table and bake cookies. The traditions are all the same; the food is still delicious. Only now, our time together means so much more because we know better than to take it for granted.
As I sit on the plane back to Washington D.C., I feel a dark, heavy thing in the pit of my stomach and cry all of the tears I’ve held back for the last few days. I start wondering how many more times we'll have to fly these 5,000 miles, and how many more times we'll have to say goodbye.
Then, as always, I remember that Norooz means “New Day”—when flowers bloom from the cold ground and trees start growing new leaves. Nature doesn’t lose hope when the cold winter comes because it knows that spring will come again, and with it hope. If there’s anything I learn each year from this holiday, it’s that I should always have hope in the new day.
So I take that and make it my mantra: As winter recedes, let spring in. Someday, my family and I will be reunited in America, and we'll call it home, and we'll stay.