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Nowruz Spread or Sofreh - Nowruz, Nauroz

nowruz, nauroz
Nowruz, Nauroz 2022

The Nowruz spread is to Nowruz, what a Christmas tree is to Christmas. Nowadays, the Spread or Sofreh is placed on a table. Traditionally, the Sofreh was spread on the floor. There are other kinds of Sofrehs such as Sofreh Aghd, or Wedding Spread (that are placed on the floor).

Wedding Spread
Wedding Spread

Sofreh Spread on the Floor
Customarily, all Zoroastrian religious ceremonies are conducted on a Sofreh spread on the floor using white linen. Sitting on the floor has other symbolisms for Zoroastrians: it is a mark of humility and it keeps one grounded in more ways than one. Staying in contact with the floor brings a person closer to the earth, literally and figuratively.

There are three kinds of items placed on a Sofreh:

  • Items that have symbolic value for the occasion (in this case Nowruz)
  • Items common to occasions such as a sace
  • Items that householders feel represent core beliefs or which have special significance to them.

A Nowruz Sofreh is unique to a home and can become quite creative. Nowruz Sofrehs in Zoroastrian homes are usually somewhat different from non-Zoroastrian households.

Sofreh in Zoroastrian Homes
The Nowruz Spread (Sofreh in Persian) in Zoroastrian homes has seven (haft in Persian) items beginning with the letter "sh" or "sheen" in the Persian alphabet. The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. Therefore it called a haft-sheen spread or haft-sheen table. The haft-sheen has evolved over time, but has kept its symbolism. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a haft-sheen table as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Nowruz visitations and is a reflection of their good taste. The seven items are:

  • Sharab or wine
  • Shakar or sugar
  • Shir or milk
  • Shireh or syrup
  • Shahd or honey
  • Shirini or candy
  • Shir-berenj or rice-pudding (recipe)

The number seven represents:

  • God and God's six abstract attributes or archangels.
  • The seven aspects of temporal creation: fire, air, water, earth, plants, animals and human beings.
  • The seven ethical concepts: a good mind and wisdom, truthfulness and righteous deeds, self-reliance and autonomy, peace and serenity, wholeness and excellence, perseverance and steadfastness.
  • The seven acts of piety: generosity of the spirit and speaking well of others, material generosity and sharing, selfless help towards those in need, community participation and inclusion (through supporting the Gahambars), honesty, piety, remembrance of the souls (specifically the Fravashis) of the righteous and one's ancestors.
  • The seven features of Nowruz: renewed and reaffirmed commitment to personal goals grounded in goodness, renewed energy and a positive cheerful disposition, renewed positive relationships, cleanliness and good health, honour and care for the environment, and preserving the eternal spiritual flame.

Additional items that are frequently seen on the Nowruz Spread

  • A book of scripture
  • A portrait of Zarathushtra
  • A mirror, symbolizing cleanness and honesty
  • Rose-water, believed to have magical cleansing powers
  • Candles or oil lamps, symbolizing enlightenment and happiness,
  • A fire chalice
  • A bowl of water with goldfish, symbolizing life within life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving
  • Sprouted wheat or grains, symbolizing rebirth
  • Various grains
  • Flowers
  • Fruits
  • Coins, symbolizing wealth & prosperity
  • Bread
  • A cone made from sugar
  • Painted boiled eggs similar to Easter eggs, symbolizing fertility

Some households place a sace on the Nowruz table. A sace consists of a metallic tray, made from stainless steel, German silver or silver, and matching accessories such as a fire chalice or oil lamp, a container with a long neck for rose water, and a cone for rock-sugar. The sace and its accessories can be exquisitely crafted and are often part of a family heirloom.

Source of Fire:
An important part of the Nowruz Table is a source of fire: a fire chalice, candles or an oil lamp. Fire represents core Zoroastrian values based on goodness and honesty.

The Sofreh is a white table-cloth or linen sheet, white being the Zoroastrian symbol for purity. The other items represent the bounty of creation and the joy of a good, meaningful life.

The occasional spread may even contain a pomegranate fruit with coins inserted as a symbol for prosperity, longevity and good health in the New Year. The pomegranate tree and its fruit have special significance in Zoroastrian rituals and ancient health practices.

Sofreh in Islamic Homes
Since Muslims are not permitted to drink wine, they adapted the Sofreh to a Haft-Seen Sofreh, one that has seven items beginning with the letter "s" or "seen":

  • Sabzeh - green lentil sprouts from wheat, peas, or barley growing in a dish, symbolizing rebirth.
  • Samanu - pudding made from sprouted grain or wheat germ i.e. a sweet paste or halwa, symbolizing affluence.
  • Serkeh - vinegar, symbolizing age and patience.
  • Seeb - apples, symbolizing beauty and health.
  • Seer - garlic, symbolizing medicine.
  • Sumakh - powdered sumac seasoning or berries, symbolizing (the color of) sunrise.
  • Senjed - small date-like fruits i.e. sorb-tree berry or oleaster tree, symbolizing love.

The Noruz table also commonly contains:

  • Sonbol - a hyacinth or narcissus in bloom
  • Sekeh - coins, symbolizing wealth & prosperity
  • Sofreh - or decorative cloth on which everything is displayed.
  • Traditional Iranian pastries such as baghlava, toot, naan-nokhodchi
  • Aajeel - dried nuts, berries and raisins
  • Lit candles, symbolizing enlightenment and happiness
  • A mirror, symbolizing cleanness and honesty
  • Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family, symbolizing fertility
  • A bowl of water with goldfish, symbolizing life within life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving.
  • Rosewater, believed to have magical cleansing powers
  • The national colours, for a patriotic touch
  • A holy book (e.g., the Avesta- the Zoroastrian holy book, Qur'an, Bible, Torah, or Kitab-i-Aqdas) and/or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnama or the Divan of Hafez)
  • In addition to other symbolic items Zoroastrian families will include a picture of Zarathustra.

While hyacinths (sonbol) and coins (sekkeh) are popular display items that begin with "s", they are not traditionally considered part of the seven.

Related links:

Nowruz, Nauroz Chahar-Shanbeh-Suri Farvardigan Days History of Nowruz Celebrations of Nowruz Haji Firouz Nowruz Spread Spring-Cleaning Other Names of Nowruz Prayers of Nowruz Sizdah-Bedar Customs & Foods of Nowruz Significance & Symbolism Tradition & Mythology Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar
Nowruz, Nauroz 2022 dates
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1Nowruz, Nauroz21 March 2022 (Monday)

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