Every tradition has a material element that symbolizes that holiday to its followers. The Christmas Tree, Easter Basket, Shamrock... you might even call them the very best marketing icons around.
Well, for Persian people the world over, the Haft Sinn (or "Haft Seen"), an "altar" of seven (haft) things starting with the Farsi letter sinn, is the immutable, immediately recognizable symbol of Nowrooz. And this, my dear readers, is what ours looks like:
The Haft Sinn dates back to Zoroastrian times, and the story goes that it was actually originally a Haft Sheen. But, as Islam became the more prevalent religion amongst the Persian peoples, Sheen was replaced with Sinn because of one single item - Sharab, or wine. Of course, alcohol is verboten in Islam, and thus, the new altar was born.
The seven items set on the Haft Sinn each symbolizes some aspect of rebirth and rejuvenation. They are:
- Sabz-eh (wheat sprouts grown to represent new growth)
- Samanu (a thick brown paste made of wheat, representing the bounty of spring growth)
- Seeb (apple, representing health & beauty)
- Senjed (the sweet, dried fruit of the wild olive plant - also known as a jujube, representing love)
- Sier (garlic, representing health)
- Sumaq (crushed sumac berries, representing sunrise, the time when Good conquers Evil)
- Serkeh (vinegar, representing age & patience)
In addition to these seven items, a few other items are traditionally placed at the Haft Sinn as well. Each family has its own traditions with regard to some of these items.
- Coins, to represent proseperity
- Painted eggs, to represent fertility
- Goldfish, to represent life and the end of the astral year
- Hyacinth (which happens to start with sinn in farsi) or narcissus, representing beauty and the fragrance of spring
- Rosewater, representing healing
- Mirror, representing the image of Creation, which ancient Persians believed took place on the first day of Spring
- Candles, representing enlightenment and Good
- A Qoran or a book of the poems of Hafez
This year is the first that we have done a full Haft Sinn in our home, and it's strangely bittersweet, because while it's really the first year we won't be with my family, it's also a chance for us to start our own traditions.
So, here's a small homage to my mom, and her gorgeous Haft Sinn which I will forever know as "home".