Religion and ancient customs combine in Iran as Ramadan starts during the Nowruz holiday

Nowruz Iran
6 min read
22 March, 2023

On Tuesday 21 March, around the table of the "seven sins" ("sin" is the Farsi letter "s"), Iranians gathered to celebrate Nowruz – welcoming the start of 1402 according to the Solar Hijri calendar, and repeating the customary prayer: "O turner of the hearts and the eyes, O arranger of the nights and days. Transform our circumstances into the best they can be."

Nowruz means "new day", and falls on the spring equinox, which marks the Iranian new year. It is the most important holiday among Iranians, who have passed the ancient, celebratory rituals associated with the feast day down through the generations for thousands of years.

"This Nowruz sees Iranians bid farewell to a year full of political, social and economic turmoil, most notably the huge protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini last September"

Despite the passing of centuries, the festival has not lost its lustre, with celebrations growing year upon year as efforts to modernise this ancient tradition sit side by side with the old ways.

This Nowruz sees Iranians bid farewell to a year full of political, social and economic turmoil, most notably the huge protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini last September, days after she was detained for not adhering to Iran's hijab rules. This event has dominated the lives of Iranians for months, and left scores of protestors dead, injured and imprisoned.

This year, Nowruz occurs two days before the month of Ramadan is due to start. This will inevitably impact some traditional Nowruz activities that occur during the two-week holiday, like the daytime family visits and gatherings. Many will have to reconcile the popular historical occasion with the important religious period, due to the overlap.

Live Story

The yearly preparations for Nowruz start early – at the start of Esfand (the final month of the Solar Hijri calendar), the countdown begins. Iranians from all sects and ethnic groups; Persians, Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs, Balochi, Lurs, and others, start readying themselves for the festival. One of the prominent customs practised is "Khane-takani", which is equivalent to spring cleaning and also involves renewing or re-upholstering furniture in the home.

During this period, streets all over the country are filled with flowers and shows are given by performers dressed as Hajji Firuz, an ancient folkloric character who paints his face black and roams the streets of Iran's cities a few weeks before Nowruz, singing popular old poems, and dancing. In return, passers-by give him money.

A Haftsin table set with some of the traditional items customary for Nowruz [Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty]

The streets and bazaars are thronged with people during Esfand, as everyone rushes to purchase their Nowruz essentials, like new clothes and homeware, and sometimes even new homes. However, this part of the tradition has been impacted during recent years by the economic crisis the country is going through.

Saied, a taxi-driver in Tehran, married one year ago. He says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister-edition that he has worked every day this month from 6am to 10pm, to earn enough to buy gifts for his wife for the first Nowruz festival of their married life, and to give presents to her family's children when they exchange the habitual visits during the holiday. He adds: "Prices are high, but the dollar exchange rate dropping recently has given me hope that I'll be able to buy a gold coin as a Nowruz gift for my wife, which will cost around $400."

The high cost of living has prevented many families from preparing in the usual way, with furniture repairs and essential items priced out of reach. This has to an extent muted the bustle of the streets when compared to the period before US sanctions were applied in 2018.  

"The streets and bazaars are thronged with people during Esfand, as everyone rushes to purchase their Nowruz essentials, like new clothes and homeware"

In Iran, the closer Nowruz gets, the more the excitement grows, especially among the children who count down the days. Yesna (12), lives with her family in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province in Iran. She says: "I can't wait for the Eid so I can wear my new dress, jump over the fire with my friend, and get presents from my grandad and uncles. My family will spend some of the Nowruz holiday in Marivan, on the border with Iraq, which is where Lake Zeribar is," – one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world.

Iranians initiate the Nowruz celebrations with "Red Wednesday" ("Chaharshanbeh Suri" in Farsi). This takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday of the Iranian year, which fell on 14 March this year. When the sun sets, the celebrations begin, signifying joy at the coming of Nowruz. People let off firecrackers and fireworks, and light fires in the squares, streets, and on top of rooves of houses, before jumping over them as others dance and sing around them.

But the "Red Wednesday" rites never pass without victims, which ruins the coming festival for many families. This year, 19 lost their lives, and 1,290 suffered injuries – including some who lost their eyes or had to have limbs amputated. This tragedy recurs every year despite recurrent warnings by the Iranian authorities.  

On the evening of the last Thursday of the year, Iranians visit to the graves of their dead, especially those who they have lost recently, to honour their memory at the start of Nowruz.

On the spring equinox, everyone gathers with their families around the ceremonial haftsin table, which they will have prepared days before. On the table are laid seven items all of which begin with the letter sin (s). These include "seeb" (apple in Farsi), which symbolises beauty, "seer" (garlic), which symbolises health, and "sombol" (hyacinth), symbolising spring.

Other items used may be sumac, the traditional "samano" sweet pudding, and "senjed" (the oleaster fruit which represents love). "Sekeh" (coins) are also placed on the table, to represent livelihoods, wealth and blessings, and a goldfish ("samakeh") in a bowl should also be placed on the table, to symbolise life.


After Islam became the dominant religion in Iran, placing a copy of the Qur'an on the table became customary.

In general, during the two-week holiday, Iranians will take trips inside and outside the country and visit relatives. The celebrations wind up with the final day of the festive period which is known as "Sidzdah Bedar" day.

On this day, millions of Iranians set out early in the morning to spend the day outside in nature in the biggest collective event of the Iranian year. They head for the deserts, valleys and parks, in a revival of an ancient custom annually practiced on this day – the 13th of Farvadin – the first month in the Solar Hijri calendar.  

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: