Abu Dhabi: Nowruz celebrations, marking the beginning of the Persian New Year, will begin on Monday at exactly 2:28:40 pm. Nothing random about the timing here — it is the exact moment of the Vernal Equinox, marking the beginning of spring.
The occasion will mark year 1396 in the Iranian calendar, however, it is also an event that is celebrated by Afghans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, some Iraqis and other countries influenced by ancient Persia.
Nowruz is traditionally a time spent with family and is celebrated by the gathering of the immediate family around the Haft Seen, a decorated spread, for the exact moment of the New Year followed by an exchange of presents.
It is customary for the family to gather at the home of the family’s eldest for a sumptuous lunch or dinner which has to include Sabzi Polo Mahi (herbed rice with fish).
The next 13 days after Nowruz are a time to visit family and friends’ at their homes, also known as Eid Deedani, literally meaning seeing Eid. Eid Deedani is a particularly happy occasion for children, who get to pocket brand new currency kept for them inside the Quran by the house owner as gifts.
The Haft Seen, is the official Nowruz decoration that each house will prepare in their own style on a table and will include at least seven items that in Farsi begin with the letter ‘seen’ or s, with every single item symbolising something. These include serke (vinegar), seeb (apple), senjed (dry fruit from lotus tree), sabzeh (sprouts), seer (garlic), somaq (sumac fruit), samanu (a sweet pudding). Additional items that begin with the letter s that are commonly seen on the table as part of the sofreh (spread) include sekeh (coin) and sonbol (hyacinth).
The UAE is home to around 450,000 to 500,000 Iranians, as estimated by the Iranian embassy, and while many travel back to their hometowns to celebrate Nowruz with their families, others will be spending it right here in the UAE.
“I will be spending Nowruz with friends who are like my family here. We will have a gathering, which will definitely include sabzi polo mahi [herbed rice and fish],” said 41-year-old Parham Gohari who has been living in Dubai for around 10 years.
“Dubai is so multicultural and there is so many activities going on at the Iranian hotspots that I really feel right at home at Nowruz,” said Gohari.
As the celebration is a national holiday in Iran, it also sees an influx of Iranian tourists travelling to the UAE to be with their families, or simply to enjoy a break. Figures by the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) showed March 2016 to have brought in the highest number of Iranian visitors, with 49,000 people visiting the emirate that month compared to the average of around 39,000 visitors per month.
“My son is visiting me from Iran for Nowruz because I couldn’t go to Iran,” said Gholam Esmati, a 57-year-old Iranian delicacies shop owner who has been living in Abu Dhabi for over 35 years.
The father of four said he has not celebrated Nowruz in Iran for around 15 years and, while he will be at work on Monday, he said he would try to make time and have some traditional Persian food with his son.