Happy Norouz, Let’s Make New Beginnings :)

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but that’s purely because I prefer quality over quantity. Since the Persian New Year (Norouz) is nearly upon us…I thought I’d take this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! Firstly I am going to introduce you to the wonderful charity organisation ‘Kahrizak’ and tell you a little about what they do, and also about the event I had the privilege to take part in and help to the best of my abilities!

Secondly, I will tell you a little bit about Norouz. Unfortunately, under the shadow that media and politics have cast over the way Iran is portrayed, some beautiful and ancient traditions tend to go unnoticed by most of the world. I feel it is my duty to bring this joyous and colourful occasion to your attention, so that you may celebrate it with me, and for a few minutes while reading this blog, leave the cruel portrayal of Iran aside, and be a part of my world 🙂

A Little About Kahrizak Charity Foundation

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Kahrizak is a non-profit, private charity organisation where the elderly and physically handicapped patients are cared for, free of charge. The organisation was founded by Mr Mohammad Reza Hakimzadeh in 1971, who single-handedly founded Kahrizak, starting with one patient and one room, in a poor area in the south of Tehran. Nowadays, the foundation can accommodate 1600 patients, has its own campus, a faculty of nurses and doctors, and male and female patients.

I find the success of this organisation admirable, considering they don’t receive any help from the government, and rely solely on the generosity of people and other charitable organisations (one of the integral contributors to Kahrizak is the Ladies Charitable Society that has supported the charity since 1972).

Some of the main objectives of the organisation are taking care of physically handicapped people of all ages, who cannot afford to lead a comfortable lifestyle independently. The volunteers at Kahrizak not only strive to make these patients’ lives as physically comfortable as possible, but they also seek innovative ways to see beyond the disabilities and discover the talents and potential of each individual, young or old, in order to achieve a creative and lively environment, where everyone can have a chance at an ordinary and fulfilling life.

Kahrizak foundation’s support expands to those who have lost their homes to earthquakes, fire and war, as well as those who have endured an unexpected disability through one of these or other similar incidents.

A Young Man Creating Traditional Iranian Wood Craving (Khatam) with the use of his legs... This is an extremely delicate and challenging art form, and to be able to create a masterpiece without the use of one's hands, is truly incredible.
A young man creating traditional Iranian Wood Carving (Khatam) with the use of his legs… This is an extremely delicate and challenging art form, and to be able to create a masterpiece without the use of one’s hands, is truly incredible.
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Some of the older members, enjoying an outdoors game of chess.
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One of the elderly residents receiving flowers at a fundraising event in Kahrizak.

Asia House In Association With Kahrizak

I was fortunate enough to meet a group of lovely ladies, who work at Asia House in London. WHAT A PLACE! The aim of Asia House is to connect Asian businesses, artists, academics etc with the UK. They truly are an inspirational organisation, in terms of educating the public about all aspects of Asian traditions, film and art industries by bringing together artists, creatives and other influential figures.

I was honoured to be invited to sell macarons at the 25th annual Norouz Bazaar at Asia House, which is the largest and the oldest Persian Bazaar in Europe, where Iranians from all over London come together to sell homemade Persian food, handmade crafts and all things related to Norouz, such as painted eggs and live goldfish! YES! You heard it right…Which brings me to the second part of my blog…telling you a little something about how Persian people celebrate Norouz and what it consists of!

Before I forget, I should mention that all proceeds from the sales at the Bazaar go to the Kahrizak foundation. This is to offer its residents a comfortable and happy Norouz and a prosperous year in general.

Words cannot describe how happy it makes me to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, as they enter the new year. I sometimes find it insufferable how so many people ‘share’ and ‘like’ posts about charities, or nod their heads to the news in the morning paper, complaining about the injustices in this world but no one does anything to stop poverty, abuse or other issues. There is A HELL OF A LOT of talking, and not nearly enough DOING in my opinion. Awareness is necessary to some extent, it’s true, but imagine if each and every one of us, used even 1% of our abilities, financially and creatively, to make a difference, to actually DO something about what we preach…I feel blessed to find myself in a position, where I can help make someone’s life better by simply doing what I love. If selling my macarons means someone now has a higher chance at receiving better care, better education or a better quality of life in their final years, I am going to keep doing what I’m doing and hope I can encourage you, the reader, to discover you can turn something you love into a gift, which both you and someone in need will benefit from, in different but very complimenting ways 🙂

Me! Selling Macarons at Asia House to raise funds for the Kahrizak Charity Foundation...Surrounding my macarons are the delicious aromatic 'Ahmad' Teas, a leading tea brand in Iran.
Me! Selling Macarons at Asia House to raise funds for the Kahrizak Charity Foundation…Surrounding my macarons are the delicious aromatic ‘Ahmad’ Teas, a leading tea brand in Iran.
'A few variations of 'Sabze'
‘A few variations of ‘Sabze’
'Nokhodchi' , also being sold at the Norouz Bazaar. A delicious, melt in your mouth dessert, made of chickpea flour, rosewater, sugar and cardamom...They have a delicate texture and turn into a fine powder with the gentlest touch! Perfect with tea!
‘Nokhodchi’ , also being sold at the Norouz Bazaar. A delicious, melt in your mouth dessert, made of chickpea flour, rosewater, sugar and cardamom…They have a delicate texture and turn into a fine powder with the gentlest touch! Perfect with tea!
A selection of Iranians dried fruit and nuts! A must have in the Norouz celebrations at every household! Having a selection of nuts and dried fruit to offer during the festive Norouz season is the equivalent to serving  minced pies and Christmas pudding at Christmas time!
A selection of Iranian dried fruit and nuts! A must have in the Norouz celebrations in every Persian household! Having a selection of nuts and dried fruit to offer during the festive season is the equivalent of serving minced pies and Christmas pudding at Christmas time over here!

What Is Norouz?

Norouz is the celebration of the first day of Spring (Equinox), which also marks the beginning of the year in the Persian Calender. A slightly less commercialised holiday than Christmas (!) due to it not making a big appearance in Western media or calenders (or even being considered important enough to change the ‘Google’ logo for a day!), Norouz has been celebrated for over 3000 years, but unfortunately only officially recognized in 2010 by the UN as a ‘Spring Festival of Persian origin’.

This holiday partly stems from Zoroastrian roots, an ancient religion dating back to 2nd millennium BCE. Norouz (which directly translates to ‘A New Day’) is also believed to be created by Zoroaster himself, marking ‘A New Day’ where the sun leaves the last zodiac sign ‘Pisces’ and enters ‘Aries’, indicating the first day of Spring and equinox when the sun is directly above the equator.

Norouz is the most important holiday in the Iranian Calendar. I would love to talk to you about the history behind Norouz in detail and ponder its origins, but this is not a history lesson! (Not the boring kind anyway!) There are a few key characteristics in the modern day Norouz, which I will share with you, because they link with the theme I chose for my macarons for the fundraiser…so it all merges nicely from one topic to another 🙂 They are as follows:

. Haji-Firouz 
. Haft Sin
. Caharshanbe Suri

Haji-Firouz

Is the name of a fictional character who emerges in the month leading up to Norouz, with a face which is painted black (A symbol of good luck in ancient Persia), and plays a tambourine, to which he sings and dances. He is the messenger of Norouz as much as Santa Clause is for Christmas!

Haft Sin

Directly translating to Haft (Seven) Sin (The Letter ‘S’) ‘Seven S’s’, it has a very interesting history behind it. Haft Sin is the traditional way of decorating one’s table during the festive period, just like Christians decorate their homes with a Christmas Tree and stockings. Before the rise of Islam in Iran, the traditional pronunciation of this practice was ‘Haft Chin’, which translates to Haft (seven) and Chin (Meaning ‘to place’). This was used to symbolise the seven Zoroastrian divinities ‘Earth, Sky, Plants, Animals, Fire, Water and Humans’ . A specific item was used to symbolise each of these elements, which were placed together on a table, to pay homage to ‘Ahura Mazda’ the Zoroastrian God for all the blessings in the new year. These items were as follows:

Apple : To symbolise the Earth
Painted Eggs: To symbolise Humans and Fertility
Mirror: To symbolise the Sky
Rosewater: To symbolise Water
Sabzeh (Wheat or Barely Sprouts which grow into green bundles): To symbolise Plants
Goldfish: To symbolise Animals
Candles: To symbolise Fire
After the Arab invasion, and with the emergence of Islam, many Persian traditions were marginalised ,and the language and dialects changed drastically. Since in the Arabic language, there is no ‘Ch’ sound, ‘Haft Chin’ was replaced by ‘Haft Sin’, where they would literally place seven items on a table, which began with the letter ‘S’. This meant that when the tradition was reintroduced to the Persian culture after 200 years of Arabic rule, the term and practice had evolved into a slightly different version of itself. The new arrangement of ‘Haft Sin’ is as follows:

Sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolising rebirth

Samanu – a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat – symbolising affluence

Senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolising love

Sīr – garlic – symbolising medicine

Sīb – apples – symbolising beauty and health

Somaq – sumac berries – symbolising (the colour of) sunrise

     Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience*
Many households nowadays combine elements of both pre and post Islamic versions of Haft Sin to produce a more varied and diverse composition.

A glimpse at a traditional 'Haft Sin', very tastefully decorated!
A glimpse at a traditional ‘Haft Sin’ at the Norouz Bazaar. Very tastefully decorated!
*Extract from Wikipedia.

Chaharshabne Suri

Chaharshanbe Suri is the official Persian bonfire night. It translates to ‘Chaharshanbe’ (Wednesday) and Sur (Party/Festivity). It is celebrated on the last Wednesday of the year, and considered a festival of light, where good (light) wins over evil (dark). Traditionally, people celebrate this by creating small fires, and jumping over them while singing a traditional song that translates to : ‘My yellowness is yours, and your redness mine’ , which is a symbolic way of saying ‘I shall give you my pain/sickness and in return take your strength and health.’ This tradition along with a few others on this night, symbolise a farewell to the devil and darkness and embracing the coming year with new health and strength.

Traditionally, raisins and nuts are served on this day along with other specific desserts, in order to give thanks to the prosperous year gone by and to welcome a new fruitful year.

Norouz Macarons:

In order to keep with the Norouz theme, I tried to use an element from each and every aspect of this colourful occasion to come up with some flavours. The results are as follows:

Persian Raisins, from Green Seeded Grapes, with a chocolate and grape ganache. Raisins are integral to the traditional Norouz festivities. They are served at Chaharshanbe Suri, in food and as a snack through out the holidays.
Persian raisins, from green seeded grapes, with a chocolate and grape ganache. Raisins are integral to the traditional Norouz festivities. They are served at Chaharshanbe Suri, in food and as a snack through out the holidays.
Pistachio nuts are one of the most important ingredients in Iranian cooking. They are used whole, sliced, powdered and roasted in sweet and savoury dishes through out Norouz.
Pistachio nuts are one of the most important ingredients in Iranian cooking. They are used whole, sliced, powdered and roasted in sweet and savoury dishes throughout Norouz.
Pomegranate and candied almond flavoured macarongs, to represent a few other flavours prominent in the Norouz cuisine. Almond is another popular nut in the Iranian diet, as is pomegranate. Pomegranate soup (Ash-e Anar) is a sweet and sour delicacy, enjoyed by many through out the festive season.
Pomegranate and candied almond flavoured macarons, to represent a few other flavours prominent in the Norouz cuisine. Almond is another popular nut in the Iranian diet, as is pomegranate. Pomegranate soup (Ash-e Anar) is a sweet and sour delicacy, enjoyed by many throughout the festive season. I sprinkled these macarons with cinnamon to add a bit of the season’s spices to the flavours.
Rosewater and Rose in general  have been used in Persian recipes and rituals for thousands of years.  In the traditional Haft Sin, Rosewater symbolised Water, which signifies life. The filling for the macarons is made by boiling Rose petals and honey, in order to obtain the Rose essence, which is then mixed with cream and cornflour to thicken and use as ganache.
Rosewater and roses in general have been used in Persian recipes and rituals for thousands of years. In the traditional Haft Sin, Rosewater symbolised Water, which signifies life. The filling for the macarons is made by boiling rose petals and honey, in order to obtain the rose essence, which is then mixed with cream and cornflour to thicken and use as ganache.
The colours red, purple, orange and green go with the colour theme of 'Haft Sin' , where one finds goldfish (Red) , Hyacinths (White and Purple), Sabzeh (Green), and candles (Orange/yellow).
The colours red, purple, orange and green go with the colour theme of ‘Haft Sin’ , where one finds goldfish (red), hyacinths (white and purple), sabzeh (green), and candles (orange/yellow).

Happy Norouz to all my readers 🙂

I do hope I have managed to give you a feel of the Norouz festivies, as they are experienced in Iran. It is a shame to see such an ancient celebration get so little recognition in the modern world. I wish you all a year full of prosperity and health, and would like to say a big thank you to everyone at Asia House who made it possible for me to be involved in such a wonderful event.

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