Sabzeh: The nourooz Symbol of New Life

March 18, 1999
TEHRAN Planting the seedlings of cereals to raise Sabzeh for New Years eve is a Nourooz tradition which has it roots ancient Iranian customs. A belief handed down from generation to generation is that Iranian families used to make 12 mud-brick columns around their royal courtyards, each planted with a particular kind of seed. The seeds planted were those of wheat, barely, rice, bean, broad bean, lentil, millet, chick pea, sesame, mongo, and maize.

Harvesting time was accompanied by the singing and playing of musical instruments on the sixth of Farvardin (March 27) of every year, with joy and happiness evident in each Iranian family gathered around the courtyard. The number of mud pillars represent the 12 months of the year. The mud pillars are to be preserved until the 16th of Farvardin when the whole family is to assess the growth of the seeds.

The seed that produces the tallest growth is chosen as the year's choice plant for cultivation. Unfortunately, no information is available as to how and who started the tradition of growing Sabzeh for the New Year festivity. What is important is that a distinctive national is continued from generation to generation, at a crucial period of the country's history when Iranian families are more than ever being barraged by Western cultural values.

It is worthy to note that the first Sabzeh dishes which appeared on the windows of Iranian homes originated from the 12 pillars in the courtyards of our forefathers. Raising Sabzeh in homes for the Nourooz had a process of its own and was the work of housewives. It was not done by merely dropping a handful of wheat or chick peas in a pot of water and leaving them to grow by themselves.

At least ten days before the Nourooz, a housewife would take handfuls of seeds, the number of which depending on the size of her family, and wished for health, happiness and prosperity as she placed them in a clay pot full of water until they would germinate and turn white. Then spread them apart on a piece of cloth until they would sprout.

She then transferred the seedlings on a copper plate and covered them with a piece of cloth sprayed with water. When the Sabzeh turned green the housewife would decorate them with a red ribbon. Other ways of decorating were used such as putting painted chick peas or inserting Narcissus (French daffodils) in the holes punched into the Sabzeh dishes for the purpose.

An auger regarding the Sabzeh, commonly accepted in old times, is that if a delay in the growth of the Sabzeh meant that the fruits of labor of the person who planted them was to be slow incoming and that he or she would be faced with difficulties along the way. Sabzeh that grew fast augured a smooth life and possible success.

If the Sabzeh grew beautifully, i.e., growing in a uniform size with the dish covered all over, the coming year was expected to be a prosperous year filled with hope and progress. If the growth was meager and in different length, the family was going to experience both failure and success in the forthcoming year. A full grown Sabzeh was the symbol of wealth and bounty while a meager or dying one were signs of coming financial loss or loss of a loved one.

Certain beliefs were also held in the way the seeds were taken for planting Sabzeh: any seed that fell at the planter would lose as many things or loved ones as the number of seeds dropped. The same holds true for the Narcissus. If the roots were firm, the growth abundant and with lots of flowers, the planter's life was to be very stable and his New Year full of happiness and satisfaction.

The beliefs surrounding the tradition of growing Sabzeh scared real believers who preferred not to plant them so as not to be aware with what lies ahead for them in the coming New Year.