The Nowruz Diaries; Sizdah Bedar
I have fond memories of Sizdah Bedar. The thirteenth day of Nowruz, just on the brink of the holidays, coinciding with the national Nature Day, is when Iranians head out, to spend the unlucky thirteenth day enjoying the fresh outdoors. My memories rarely diverge from the following narrative.
My sister and I are in the back of my father’s white car, accompanied by several other cars containing grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We are on the road driving out of our city of pollution and people, looking for somewhere “with water and a breeze” to unpack our saffron drinks and kuku sandwiches with a side of mint leaves. (For a detailed description of the meal head over to Niusha's blog.) Heavy from two weeks of Nowruz feasting, we cannot wait to pick teams and play dodge ball, our shrieks swallowed by the Zagros Mountains. There are two ways of going about the planning of Sizdah Bedar. We either have a solid plan, with a rough number of the participants and a specific spot to lay down our mats or we wait until the last days leading to the end of the holidays. Either way my mother’s basket is always ready in the corner of our kitchen, stacks of plastic knives, forks and spoons sit neatly next to paper cups and plates. Come the morning of the thirteenth and we are covered in sunblock or layered in jumpers and anoraks, depending on the weather, and filled with excitement in search of a place “with water and a breeze”.
In ancient Persia each day was anointed its own name and belonged to a special “Yazat” or Zoroastrian deity. With the thirteenth of Farvardin having been given the deity of rain, it is a special occasion to ask for rain, if it’s not already raining.
Perhaps the most significant part of Sizdah Bedar is taking the Sabzeh from the Haft Seen and returning it to Mother Nature. Believing that the sabzeh has collected the illness, pain and bad luck throughout the twelve days of celebration, the plate of spiky green strands is thrown into water; usually a lake or river.
Incidentally coinciding with April Fool’s day (or with the day before due to the difference in the Persian calendar), the Iranians have a tradition of pranking each other. Telling insignificant fibs soon to be revealed as “Doroogh-e Sizdah” (the lie of the thirteenth) is a close parallel of the western custom carried out on the first day of April.
And no Persian custom is complete without a slight or obtrusive reference to marriage and unification of souls and bodies. So no unwed Sizdah Bedarer goes home without knotting two strands of grass together, representing the bondage of human beings.
Enjoy your Sizdah Bedar Persians. And may your days be as colourful as your picnic spot and as shimmering as the water carrying your sabzeh…