I have written before about longing for spring to come, and about how I scrutinise my local landscape for the tiniest signs of the onward movement of nature. I have shared how I watch the hedgerows with the attention of a detective, looking for the smallest evidence of leaves unfurling, and buds pushing and bursting for their petals. As of this weekend, in solar and calendar time, we are officially now in spring time, where night and day stand shoulder to shoulder as equals, and the sun’s elipcitcal path, and the celestial equator intersect.
In our house, it also means it’s time for a big family celebration, as we keep the tradition of Persian New Year or Now Ruz. This was something I’d never heard of until I met my husband, though thinking on it now, marking new beginnings with the visible signs of new life that appear in spring time, makes a lot of sense. These traditions are not mine, they come from my husband’s culture and heritage, yet they are something my family has embraced. Being from a line of people who like to get their hands dirty, growing foods and maintaining pleasing flower gardens, we all totally get it.
Usually around this time of year, I begin to look for blackthorn blossom. Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) is an amazing plant, and normally I enjoy driving through hedgerows clouded with swathes of white flowers, as we head south down the spine of the M40, London- bound to see relatives and share celebrations with them. This year, it isn’t to be, and as my travels are mostly on foot, I haven’t seen much blackthorn yet, though I do know where to look for it, as I have special places to find the inky sloes that make a delicious winter tipple. I have seen lots of wild cherry blossoms, and the daffodils in the park are beginning to rise from their winter bulb-wrapped slumber and don their sunny yellow dresses.
Much as it feels odd not to share special celebrations with others, I am learning that if I want experiences to be beautiful and memorable, it’s a case of me doing the work to make them so. Every year we make a kind of new year altar, with seven lucky items, which all begin with S in Farsi, which is why it’s known as a Haft Sin . This year I decided I wanted to make an effort to make this happen in our hearth space, rather than on top of the bookshelf, or on the kitchen table, which is like a magnet for piles of stuff. I found joy in searching for a set of tiny matching bowls, and a 1930s mantle vase to hold the delft blue hyacinths that I would grow to the light, to fill our downstairs with heady perfume. My daughter and I found candles in just the right shade of green to sit in new white wooden candle sticks, to light up in sympathetic magic.
Most of the things that go onto the Haft Sin are easy to come by, things we tend to have at home anyway, though I am sure that my interpretation of these is far from customary. We have senjed buds (in English the Oleaster) for love, sumac powder for the sunrise, and samanu / wheat pudding for power and strength as we should. Our seeb / apple, which stands for beauty, is always foraged from the weekly supply at the bottom of the fridge, though we never pick one that already has wrinkles! Our serkeh / vinegar , which my husband things originally would have been wine, and a symbol of patience is balsamic, as we don’t tend to have any other vinegar around, The seer / garlic comes out of the vegetable basket, and, if we’ve been cooking lots of garlicky things, there’s sometimes a dash to the shop to buy a new complete clove in time.
I always think one of the most important parts of the haft sin must be the sabzeh, seeds sprouted to their full verdance to symbolise rebirth and growth as the wheel turns, yet I find having these beautiful little reminders ready exactly on time very difficult. I am a gardener, I should be able to do this, but I find the scheduling and remember to take action difficult. Every year, family grows wheatgrass, mung beans, lentils and rue to impressive heights, in small London flats, on windowsills and balconies. This year, I decided it was time to up my game.
In the past, I have struggled with the seeds because I haven’t started growing them early enough, and I always have in mind the 1st March, but somehow other things cloud my vision and I forget. The same happened this year, and I wondered if I was aiming too early to bring myself back to the light, when I felt as if I were laying down in the darkest depths. I remembered the seeds around 6th March, as the moon was beginning to hide her face again, and decided it was time to go for it, better late than never. Each year we spread a thin layer of kitchen roll onto plates and saucers, and sprinkle the seeds, then cover them with a teatowel, inviting them to dream and feel the ancient wild whispers of the anticipation of growth, as they absorb both water and darkness. As they germinate, we remove the teatowel and return them to the light, watching in wonder as they stretch out in root and leaf, an abundance of work, and powerful medicine.
Spring is a story of growth and return, recovery from the harsh cold of winter and, this year from the shocking realities of living through a global pandemic. This story is being played out between everyone and everything, the trees and plants opening from their long repose, the insects returning to hedgerows and gardens. Nowruz for me is like a call back to life, to be present and inhabit every moment, to know the sun differently after long nights of longing blessing darkness. I love how the natural world leads this celebration, and shows us how to move on by example. Flowers open, leaves reach out, no plant hides in shame, or shields its blooms.
This year, our wheat grass grew taller than it ever has before, and we were delighted to place the objects in the new dishes, to plant the hyacinths in soil, in a vase that is probably about the same age as our house. As we choreographed everything on an embroidered cloth, bearing our family name, and the names of the season, it was especially poignant to pause and think of how we take our ancestors on with us, as the aunt whose careful hands made those deliberate and delicate stitches, now rests in the earth. That evening, we made a special meal of green and yellow foods, for light and growth, and then gathered round a garden bonfire, which has become another thing we do regularly together. There were presents for the children, small toys, new clothes to begin again, and lots of sweets and treats. As we sat outside in the middle of the estate where we live, I wondered how many others might be gathering around fires and tables to welcome the change in the season together. As the constellations rose over our neighbour’s silver birch trees, I pondered how everything is new, but as old as starlight, and how good we are at beginning again and again.