TEHRAN, Iran — With the onset of spring and the Iranian New Year, come new hopes for a country stuck in tough times. Late March marks the Persian holiday “Nowruz,” when Iranian citizens and diasporic communities everywhere put the hardship of the past behind them and celebrate with a forward perspective the good tidings of days to come. This year, the Middle Eastern country has a lot to anticipate.
March 20 started the 13 days of ceremony filled with friends, family and feasting. A colorful ceremonial table, called a “haftseen,” is loaded and decorated with an assortment of food, such as smoked salmon, eggs, herbal rice and green vegetables to recognize the renewal of nature under the vernal equinox. As many other cultures can attest, a feast is known as a delicious representation of friendship, community and peace.
Seven vital items are always seen on the haftseen, though, to facilitate good will in the coming year. All beginning with the letter S, they are: “Seeb” (apple) for beauty, “Seer” (garlic) for good health, “Serkeh (vinegar) for patience, “Sonbol” (hyacinth) for spring, “Samanu” (sweet pudding) for fertility, “Sabzeh” (sprouts) for rebirth, and “Sekeh” (coins) for prosperity.
Extra pressure is being placed on Nowruz this year, due to the economic and social downturn Iran has recently been facing. Inflation, rising unemployment, a widening wealth gap and a minimum wage rendered insufficient were fixtures of Iran’s 2013.
Currently, between 44.5 percent and 55 percent of the country’s urban inhabitants live below the poverty line. Research shows that about 653,000 tomans ($630) is sufficient for the average, frugal household to subsist, but over half the entire country’s population of 75 million fall short every month.
In response, workers and burgeoning independent trade unions began the illegal practice of public organizing and protest, which has thus far only led to an onslaught of arrests. Political chaos has also been made worse by growing religious, ethnic and gender tension on the rise due to the stiffened job competition and deteriorating economic situation.
“In that context of rising poverty and unemployment, workers are left with no legal channels to present their claims and no collective bargaining rights”, explained Karim Lahidji, president of the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI).
The 2013 elections brought newly appointed President Hassan Rouhani into office, but that so far has provided very little relief. Last month, a politically strategic initiative to hand out free food baskets backfired when the supplies were limited and the lines too long, causing chaos that quickly went viral on social media.
These events are what Nowruz sentiments desire, however, as it channels Iran’s potential to turn its bad luck around. In unfortunate years, noodles are popular haftseen dishes, to symbolize the “unraveling” of difficulties. Additionally, it is customary on the 13th and final day to throw the “Sabzeh” into water, as a way of releasing the past. Afterwards, new clothes are bought and the house is cleaned, to beckon in a fruitful future.
As Iranians like to chant, “Eide Shoma Mobarak,” which is their way of saying Happy New Year.