Nowruz, the Persian word for “new day,” coincides with the vernal equinox and the first day of spring. Rooted in Zoroastrianism, the religion of Iran before the founding of Islam, Nowruz was celebrated in much of the ancient Near East as early as 3,000 BCE. Today, people in many regions from Central Asia, West Asia, and South Asia to the Caucasus participate in the thirteen days of Nowruz festivities with their own local variations.
In Iran, the centerpiece of the Nowruz celebration is the Haft sin table. It includes at least seven (haft) items that refer to new life and renewal. Although the custom has regional variations, in Iran each of the seven items begins with the letter s (pronounced seen in Persian).
- sib (apples): fertility and beauty
- sonbol (hyacinth): fragrance
- serkeh (wine vinegar): immortality and eternity
- senjed (wild olives): fertility and love
- sabzeh (wheat, barley, or lentil sprouts growing in a dish): rebirth
- samanu (wheat sprout pudding): sweetness
- sekkeh (coins): wealth
Other symbols of good luck can also be placed on the table, such as:
- A mirror, to reflect the light of wisdom and creation
- A book of poetry by the fourteenth-century writer Hafiz or a copy of the Qur’an
- An orange floating in a bowl of water, to represent Earth floating in space
- Candles, to symbolize holy fire
- Decorated eggs, to represent fertility
Share your Haft sin with us with by tagging @FreerSackler or using #FreerSackler. You might see your table in our photo gallery!
Although our museum is closed this year, we invite you to join us virtually. Enjoy our Nowruz digital library, which represents the richness of traditions and celebrations. We look forward to celebrating with you online.
Get creative with art-inspired activities for all ages
Create your own crowns and puppets, and decorate a coloring page from the museum’s collection or inspired by Firdawsi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings).
What is the Shahnama?
One thousand years ago, the Persian poet Firdawsi (d. 1020) completed one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature: the Shahnama, (Book of Kings). Composed of some sixty thousand verses, the sweeping epic recounts the myths, legends, and “history” of Iran from the beginning of time to the Arab conquest in the seventh century.
Firdawsi’s text is centered on the reigns of fifty monarchs (including three women) and can be divided into a legendary and a quasi-historical section. It begins with the reign of Kayumars at the dawn of time and concludes with the last Sasanian king, Yazdigird (reigned 632–651), who was defeated by the Arabs. These fifty “chronicles” provide a framework for the dramatic deeds and heroic actions of a range of other personages who are often aided by—or who are at battle with—a host of fantastic creatures and treacherous villains. The poem draws on a wealth of sources, including local and dynastic histories, the Avesta (the sacred text of the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Iran), and myths and legends preserved in oral tradition.
Make your own crown inspired by nobility from the Book of kings. Cut out your favorite design, punch holes near the edge, and use string to fasten the crown to your head.
Create a puppet of a character from the Shahnama. Cut out your favorite character and attach the paper to cardboard (cereal box or similar) with a glue stick. Then, watch this video to learn how to assemble your puppet.
Celebrate with us through online programs
We invite you to attend our virtual Nowruz programs, all of which are free of charge.
Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic
Thursday, March 18 – Monday, March 22, 2021
Storyteller Xanthe Gresham: Simorgh and the Conference of Birds
Starting Thursday, March 18, 10 am
Documenting Cultural Heritage Online: The Archaeological Gazetteer of Iran
Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 12 – 1 pm
Learn more about Nowruz traditions
We’re celebrating Nowruz by sharing traditions of the holiday and how we’ve celebrated in the past at the National Museum of Asian Art. Share your thoughts with us in the comment sections of these blogs.
- Celebrating Stories from the Persian Book of Kings
- Inspired by Storytelling
- Xanthe Gresham and the Art of Storytelling
- Azar Nafisi: My Father’s Shahnameh
- Nowruz Courts and Music
Discover art and music online
Enjoy our Nowruz video library highlighting collections, performances, and past celebrations.
- Master of Persian Music: Hossein Alizadeh, tar and setar
- Persian Music: Sabha Motallebi, tar
- Sound: The Encounter: Jazz from Iran and Syria
- Masters of Persian Music: Hossein Alizadeh and Kayhan Kalhor
Show your festive spirit on Zoom
Join your next Zoom call with a newly designed Zoom background using artworks from the National Museum of Asian Art.