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The spring equinox heralds the beginning of the Persian New Year – a time to celebrate new beginnings. For the Zoroastrian community, the first day of their New Year, Nauroz (celebrated on March 21), is marked by a spirit of optimism and renewal.

Friends and family visit each other during the first 13 days of the New Year. The host/hostess holds up a mirror to their guests, asking them to smile, while sprinkling rose water into the outstretched palm of their right hand; this symbolises prosperity and joy.

Decorations are a big part of Nauroz; the threshold and steps of homes are decorated with elaborate patterns made with chalk powder called rangoli; torans (strings of flowers) are hung above doorways.

The focal point of Nauroz is the ancient Persian tradition of spreading out the haft seen table. This includes a mirror, rose water, fresh flowers, a candle, fresh and dry fruit, vegetables and a basket of coloured eggs. These represent natural elements, symbolising rebirth, prosperity, health and love, among other things.

The table also includes seven items beginning with the letter S (in Persian): sham (candle/light), sherbat (sweet fruit juice), sherab (wine), shehed (honey), sheer (milk), shalgum (turnip) and shireeni (sweets).

Over the years, Zoroastrians in Pakistan have started to serve non-traditional food items; these include elaborate canapés, large platters of roast meat served with mint leaves, paneer and naan, kababs and chicken botis – a testament to how they continue to adapt to their surroundings. However, sev and ravo, traditional Parsi desserts made with vermicelli and suji respectively, are always present.

But no matter what the fare, conversation, laughter, merriment and a sense of community are most certainly an integral part of Nauroz.

– Zara Contractor

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 18, 2012.