Haft-sin traditional table of Nowruz contains symbolic elements to get the best at the moment of New Year. Although its components vary in different regions, it has always had common principles.
The table of Nowruz may be arranged on the top of a table, on a tray or inside a chest but the main and similar position in all cases is that the table of Nowruz always consists of some symbolic objects that are signs of the best wishes and desires of mankind for his life, and also some life essentials and special food. It is believed that if these elements are present on the traditional table of Nowruz at the moment of New Year, they will give blessing to the people at this table. Some of these elements are more common and more ancient, and others could change based on geographic location and local beliefs. The main components of traditional table of Nowruz are the seven items starting with the letter “S” or seen in Persian alphabet: Greenery (sabze), Garlic (sir), Sumac berries (somāq), Silverberry (senjed), Apples(sib), Samanu (A sweet pudding made from germinated wheat) and Vinegar(serke)!
We must keep in mind that in Iranian sources, Traditional table of Nowruz (Haft-Seen) is also referred to as: Wine, Milk, Nectar (Syrup), Candle, Boxwood, Sweets, and fruits. Some people consider “Haft-Sheen” original, which is the transformed version of “haft chin” meaning seven arranged elements. Some others believe “haft sheen” is original because the letter “Seen” is cold and disappointing and appears in such words as darkness and coldness. In addition, vinegar and Sumac berries are sour, and in Iranians’ beliefs, they have never been the sign of happiness. On the other hand, they always welcomed sweets and the letter “sheen” is warm. Some say that the “Seen” is the reduced form of the word Tray and they believe that in the past, foods were placed on seven trays, and in Nowruz were presented to kings.
Now, we have to say why seven?! Since ancient times, number seven has always been holy for Iranians. Some equal the sanctity of this number to seven Amesha Spenta (Holy, immortal angels in Zoroastrianism), and some others believe it is equal to the Islamic beliefs based on the seven heavens and seven levels of ground and seven appointed angels. Even the seven position in pray and the seven Salaam in holy Quran should be mentioned. Here it is necessary to describe the components of traditional table of Nowruz. Seven items of Haft-Sin table are as follow.
Sabzeh: Sabzeh is uasually made from edible grains such as mung bean, lentil sprouts, wheat, etc. and it is one of the most important signs of blessing, vivacity and verdure in Haft-seen since it is made from edible grains that have been holy for Iranians for thousands of years. On the other hand, Sabzeh’s presence on the Nowruz table is a sign of good mood, kindness and fortune in the following year. In Safavid era, because of the tendency to the Shia faith, the green color found a special meaning for Iranians. Thus, Sabzeh and its special color found a special respect in Haft-Seen table.
Growing sabzeh of Nowruz usually starts 10 to 15 days earlier. First, wheat is soaked in bowls of water. After 48 hours, wheat is wrapped in some cloth and is left in a light place. Then once or twice a day, a little water is sprinkled onto the cloth to keep it wet and its extra water is drained. Usually, in a few days, delicate and green sprouts grow from these dry grains. Then sprouts are placed in the main container and are sprinkled every day. Wrapping Sabzeh in cloth is based on the belief of protecting it from bad and foul eyes. Otherwise, it would not grow well.
Abu Reyhan Biruni claims that growing Sabzeh dates back to king Jamshid, of the Pishdadian Dynasty, the first kings ruling over the land of Persia. When demons and Ahriman shut the rain to the ground and did not allow spring winds, which fertilized the earth and trees, to blow, Jamshid went to battle and defeated them. Thus, to express their gratitude, people grew grain sprouts in different dishes and this way the custom was laid down among Iranians. During the Sassanid era, various seeds and grains were planted on top of seven or twelve columns and based on the growth of these seeds, they decided which one would be more suitable and more blessed in the New Year.
Usually, in each house one sabzeh is prepared for the New Year’s ceremony and Haft-Seen table, but in some regions of Iran growing three sabzeh (for the sake of Good thoughts, Good words, and Good deeds) or seven (for the sake of seven Amesha Spenta) are common. In some beliefs, sabzeh is also grown according to the number of family members and it is believed that if the Sabzeh of a person does not grow well, they will not have a good year ahead. Sabzeh are thrown away in Sizde-Bedar (13th outdoor) ceremony particularly into running water in order to stimulate renewal of nature.
Samanu: Samanu is a sweet paste made from germinated wheat. The old Persians believed that growth of plants and sprouting of seeds were due to the worship of gods and Fravashi, so it is a symbol of fertility for human beings. Therefore, eating these sprouts will increase the strength and fertility for the whole year. Samanu is a symbol of human patience and suffering in the face of hardships he may experience in his life.
Cooking samanu in many parts of Iran is accompanied by special ceremonies and rituals begin in the morning. After guests have been served, they press wheat sprouts hard to squeeze out it’s essence. Then, they pour the ingredients into a large pot. While waiting for their turn to stir the Samanu with a big scoop, the participants make wishes. In the evening, women and men stay awake, play tambourine, sing songs, dance, and keep stirring the Samanu. Near the morning, the stove is turned off and it is left for a while. Then the eldest person present usually dishes and hands it out. Cooking Samanu is called “man maker”, because it gives a lot of strength to the arm and is a symbol of man struggling in his life and his constant struggle with the nature. Samanu is prepared for Nowruz table to remind people that power and strength are divine gifts and human beings should always regardthem holy and honorable.
Garlic: In some beliefs, Garlic is a symbol of self-respect and in others it symbolizes the reunion of man with nature. What can symbolize fertility better than garlic which consists of small cloves lying together in a thin, delicate cover. A garlic plant can hold up to 20 bulbs and each bulb can be self-sustaining in a humid atmosphere and produce other bushes. In Zoroastrian beliefs Garlic is a strong disinfectant and is needed in order to stay away from any vice in the New Year.
Silverberry: Senjed or silverberry is a very powerful and useful plant, which is used in Haft Seen for protection from sickness and disease. On the other hand, Senjed is a fruit whose leaf and blossom stimulate love and affection, which is one of the basic principles of birth and fertility. Senjed is a symbol of love; a person who strives to endure problems while experiencing love.
Apple: Apple is a symbol of health and well-being. The presence of apples on the Nowruz table guarantees health and shows the belief in power of health. Apple can symbolize the human care for and attention to his body and maintaining the health of his body and soul since healthy mind is in healthy body. However, some consider apple as a symbol of love and passion. Iranian tales have a very good relationship with apples. Usually Dervishes and wise people halve an apple, give one half to husband and the other half to the wife. Thus both the man and woman are rid of impotency and infertility. Here the wisdom of fertility is shown and fertility and birth are brought to the Haft-Seen table by this beautiful element.
Vinegar: Vinegar is a symbol of accepting life’s ordeals. Willy-nilly our life is a set of contrasts, partly good and partly bad; partly joyful and partly sad. Man must live his life even in hardship and make the most out of it. Vinegar is made from grapes through a process and it never decays. That is why it is also a symbol of immortality.
Sumac berries:Sumac berries refer to the bond of hearts and is the symbol of birth and blessing. Due to its cluster shape and red- colored fruits, it is a symbol of life and fertility. Since its color look likes the sunrise, it is considered as a symbol of life after death and change.