Nowruz Pirooz!

Today might be the first day of spring, but in Iran March 20 marks the start of a new year. Known as Nowruz or Norooz, the holiday means “New Day” and commemorates the Persian New Year.

The holiday, which dates back 3,000 years, is rooted in Zoroastrianism – an ancient Iranian religion that influenced later religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Norooz is considered one of the largest celebrations of the year with Iranians of all religions taking part in the festivities.

This year, Norooz begins at 8:27 p.m. local time in Tehran on Thursday and lasts for 12 days.

For those unfamiliar with Norooz, here are answers to common questions surrounding the Persian New Year.

How Is Norooz Celebrated?

Before Norooz begins, on the last Wednesday before the New Year, Chahar Shanbe Suri is celebrated to cast away the misfortunes of the past year. Participants jump over bonfires with songs and gestures. A popular one, "Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man," translates to, "May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine."

The phrase symbolizes trading in the color yellow, which represents sickness, to red, which is a sign of health.

A major part of the New Year celebration involves setting the "Haft Seen." also known as the seven S’s. The traditional table setting includes seven items that all begin with the letter “seen” in the Persian alphabet. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabzeh (green grass), Serkeh (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic).

At the exact moment of the New Year, known as Tahvil, families hug and kiss each other, wishing one another a happy new year. Cash, coins and gold are given as gifts – usually from the adults to the children.

On the 13th day, known as Sizdah Bedar, it’s typical for families to spend the day outside. Iranians are known to go to parks for a picnic, since it is believed that remaining outdoors will help one avoid misfortune. Another tradition involves throwing green sprouts into rivers and lakes to symbolize the rebirth of plants and the end of the New Year festivities.

What Are Traditional Norooz Foods?

Popular Norooz dishes include "sabzeh" or sprouts, a sign of rebirth; "seeb" or apples, for beauty; and "serkeh" or vinegar, which stands for age and patience. Traditionally, on New Year’s Eve, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish.

Popular Greetings?

No-Rooz Mobarak (Happy No-Rooz, Happy New Year)

Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to You)

No-Rooz Pirooz (Wishing You a Prosperous New Year)

Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing You 100 More Happy New Years)