We give thanks to our friend Chai T for this guest post on Navroz.
Each year, the spring equinox – when day and night are equal length – marks a transition in earth’s relationship with the sun. This event, sacred to many cultures throughout history, today thrives as a new year celebration for hundreds of millions.
In Bombay, London, and throughout the South Asian diaspora, on 21 March, you’ll find many folks of the Zoroastrian faith (amongst others) celebrating this new year, or Navroz as we like to call it.
They may be Irani Zoroastrians – descendents of immigrants and refugees from Iran in the previous century who opened the much-loved Bombay Irani cafes evoked by Dishoom. They may be Parsi Zoroastrians – descendents of those arriving from ancient Iran perhaps 1,000 years earlier. Or both. But food and fellowship figure strongly for all who celebrate worldwide – in homes, community halls, and (nowadays) restaurants.
Navroz is the ancient new year celebration marking the vernal equinox and spring’s arrival. Observed by diverse communities across borders, cultures, and religions for thousands of years, it’s a holiday of unity, tolerance, kinship, and reconciliation.
It goes by many names – including Nowruz, Nooruz, Newroz, and Nevruz (all meaning ‘New Day’ in Persian-related languages). Thought to originate in pre-Zoroastrian and Zoroastrian times, it’s a cultural festivity for some; a religious observance for others. But it’s always an family-friendly celebration of life, nature, fertility, growth, and renewal.
Whatever the name, it’s observed by entire nations as a major festival – including Iran, Afghanistan, and across Central Asia; and by specific communities in the Balkans, Black Sea Basin, Caucasus, the Middle East, and South Asia; and diaspora nations like the UK. Some observe Navroz as a religious celebration – including Zoroastrian, Ismaili, and Baha’i communities. Others – including nations and communities (for example, people of Kurdish background) – celebrate as a cultural holiday, regardless of religion or national origin.
Many cultures – including Iranian Zoroastrians – observe the actual date and time of spring equinox – which varies yearly. Others – including Parsi Zoroastrians – celebrate on the fixed day of 21 March. Each celebrating culture has unique customs and festivities – often with spring cleaning, new clothes, special food, and reaffirming friendship or family connections.
At some Zoroastrian celebrations, you may see displays symbolising growth and renewal, representing two main Zoroastrian cultures: a South Asian Parsi-style silver ‘ses’ tray – including a coconut, rice, and flowers; alongside an Iranian-style ‘haft sin’ or ‘haft shin’ table including eggs, sprouted wheat, and goldfish.
Navroz can be a time of both spiritual cleansing and thanksgiving feasting – whether one is amongst family, friends, or on one’s own.
Chai T is a communications specialist, writer, and creative artist who has worked with media and institutions to raise visibility of Zoroastrian diasporic communities.
Whatever you want to call it, wherever you are in the world, and however you choose to celebrate – we wish you a very happy and healthy Navroz. Come and see us on 21 March, and try our Navroz special – Falooda!
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.