For a moment, a breeze sliced through the otherwise hot and sunny day, swirling in and out of the branches above us and ruffling the leaves that provided shade to me and my family. Meanwhile, our picnic mat sat firmly on the ground, weighted by the heaping feast of Persian food set upon it.
Like almost everyone else in the park, I was dressed in a sun hat and dark sunglasses, looking as though I was about to board a non-stop cruise to the Bahamas; nevertheless, that was not the case that April afternoon. In reality, my family and we, along with fellow Iranians, were actually celebrating “Sizdah Be-dar,” or “The Day of Nature,” as it is often called.
The holiday quite literally translates to “13 to the door” and, as its name suggests, is based on the superstitious belief that the number 13 is unlucky. Sizdah Be-dar takes places on the thirteenth day of the Persian New Year, Nowruz (which directly translates to “new day”), and its tradition is meant to ward off the “evils” of the number 13; it is a day Persians believe to be necessary in order to lead a fruitful and successful year.
In custom, Iranians head to the outdoors, whether that be in their backyards or at a lush park where they know fellow Iranians will be celebrating and set out a picnic where they spend the day with their families, eating, talking and laughing. The browning sabzi (some type of greenery) from the Nowruz haft-seen (a traditional table setting decked with seven meaningful items) is then pitched into a river, yielding the bright sentiments of a new year.
But in truth, I didn’t always regard these holidays with the enthusiasm that I do today. As a child, I felt detached from these celebrations and I neglected to try and find the meaning within the fringe of our traditions. I distinctly recall defining the Persian New Year by the crisp fifties and hundreds family and family friends would gift me with; my endearing attitude towards the holiday could be solely attributed to the way my piggy bank thanked me by doubles and triples.
Furthermore, I found the events we attended in celebration of these holidays to be tiresome. My younger self would have much rather sat home and watched SpongeBob or played computer games. In hindsight, I neglected to fully understand the meaning and depth behind both Nowruz and Sizdah Be-dar. It is only now that I fully understand and appreciate the significance behind these holidays and I feel lucky and enlightened for this circumstance.
Personally, I believe the increasing weight I place upon these holidays has everything to do with my desire to further root myself within my heritage; through them, I am able to establish my identity as an evolving Persian woman, year after year.
My newly forged connection to these holidays is also reflected by the seven items on our family haft-seen; specifically, the serkeh (vinegar) reminds me not to allow my flaw of impatience to take a hold of me. The stacked apples prompt me to eat them more often, for the sake of health. The tiny lit tea lights floating in a large glass bowl filled with water suggest the vastness of space and the insignificance of our small world. Next to this bowl, the glass of somaq (crushed powder of berry) symbolizes the sweet reality that tomorrow will be followed by yet another sunrise and thence, a “nowruz.”
As I have grown older, my resonance with my culture and its distinct traditions has become increasingly conspicuous. Although it is both amusing and interesting to reflect upon my callow childhood mindset, it is when I remember the way these holidays have shaped my character, that my recognition and gratitude grow to even greater heights.