The Amazing Zoroastrians
Oh dear. We missed it –Persian New Year. Why, you ask, is that important to our culture here whose immediate worry is how to find hand gel, toilet paper, and tinned tomatoes in empty-shelved grocery shops, where every bit of community comfort is denied to us because we can’t hug?
WELL, centuries ago, the great astronomers, the Zoroastrians, decided that the Vernal Equinox would be the first day of the new year. Their expertise had no trouble calculating the exact day that Spring arrived. (After all, they later found their way to a Baby in Bethlehem 1028.22 miles away.) New world, new year, and new light. How logical is that — to celebrate when the world is new, rather than cold, dark drizzly January 1st when we are still glutted with pudding, and struggling to find meaning in all of Christmas’ 12 days?
What happens in Nowruz?
Now Ruz (New Day) in Iran is an ancient tradition kept by everyone, irrespective of any, or no belief. This is the time to celebrate Earth’s new light. And what a performance Earth puts on! Brilliant blue sky, soaring acrobatic pigeons showing off in aerial flight, clapping their wings as they do so; the soft beige hills around Tehran rich with wild tulips and grape hyacinths. Glorious!
Iran in the 70s
As the years pass, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that John and I had the privilege of being in Iran in the early 70s, and for four years to meet the Persian community. We got to see how the people themselves celebrated – thirteen days of holiday time. New clothes. Delicious food. Walks in the cool spring air, greeting each other. Picnics. Family get-togethers. Feasting and dancing. Leaping over bonfires. The traditional New Year table decorated with seven items beginning with the Farsi letter S, each with a significance for health, positivity, spirituality, or wealth. The air scented with roasting pistachios and almonds. Rumbly wooden carts trundling through streets selling corn on the cob, steamed beetroot and much more. Wonderful!
Tradition has it, they said, that a giant bull holds up the Earth on the tip of one horn. At the exact moment of the New Year, it shifts Earth to the other horn. We had a friend – a Ph.D in Physics – whose grandmother believed that she could feel the moment of that shift. (Who could say she didn’t?)
How lucky we were to have been there and witnessed it all! How rich our lives still, with the memories, and the deep friendships that endure today!
This year, we’re not the only ones who missed New Year celebrations. Many in Iran did, too:
- The hundreds who died at the funeral of a murdered trusted leader.
- Those who died in the demonstrations against the present regime.
- Those who are dying daily of COVID-19 (2900 at time of writing), and their grieving loved ones.
- Those who live in a regime that suppresses their Zoroastrian DNA for singing and dancing and celebration because it smacks of Western imperialism (WHAAAAAH???).
So why should we celebrate Persian New Year, a day of new light and new beginnings? Why not? 300 million people around the world celebrate it too. Next year let’s join them. On behalf of those who can’t.
Happy Nowruz everyone.
Havij Pollo (Carrots and Rice)
Here’s a surprisingly delicious rice dish from Persia, dear friends. Ingredients are easy to find – I hope. Unlike Persian stews, this does NOT improve with ageing. It’s best to consume it on the day of preparation. Can be adjusted for Vegans.
Cook 1½ teacups long grain rice according to instructions until al dente. Set aside. Coarsely grate 1 lb (500 gms, 3 ½ cups) of peeled carrots. If you find this boring, use the time to phone another self-sequestered soul and have a chat with the phone in your neck.
Peel and chop one onion. Heat 1 ½ tablespoons butter or oil or coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan with lid, and fry the onion gently without browning. Add grated carrots and fry them – also gently and covered – for 10 – 12 minutes until soft. Stir once or twice during cooking. If sticking is threatened, add a bit more butter or oil. Remove lid, add 2 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon tomato paste (see note). Stir occasionally to remove some of the moisture.
Now, (and this is almost sacrilegious in Persian cooking) in a microwaveable casserole dish with lid, alternate layers of rice and carrots to the top.
Put sheets of paper towels on the casserole, then the lid. Microwave for 5 – 7 minutes until steaming hot. Serve quickly. [If you are Persian you would melt loads of butter in a pan before layering, add layers as above, put on a low heat for about an hour, then stand the pan on a tea towel soaked with cold water. After about 5 minutes turn the whole thing upside down and out will come a beautiful rice cake with a tasty crusty top. So they say. To date, mine don’t work.]
SERVE. With the protein of your choice. Persians would either make meatballs with ground lamb, or serve it with a roast joint of lamb. We had some cooked chicken and steamed it within the layers of rice and carrots.