IN Iran, the snows are melting on the Elburz Mountains and Mount Damavand, bringing floods of water through the ganots (underground water tunnels) and into the villages and cities of the country. The Persian winter will soon be over and the buds on the almond, pistachio, pomegranate, apricot, and peach trees will be heavy with blossoms; the meadows and plains will be brilliant with wildflowers. And families are beginning to prepare to celebrate Noruz Jamshidi, the New Year, a universal holiday. The words mean: no - new, ruz - day, and Jamshidi - the Persian name for the first legendary king of Iran. For the Iranians, spring begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox when the sun passes into the zodiac sign of the ram. At that moment, be it midnight or dawn, cannons in each city and town signal the start of celebrations.
For 13 days, families and friends visit and exchange gifts, and are consumed in celebrations. Everyone must wear something new, at least one thing must be brand-new; and dressed in their best, on the first day they go to the head of the family and offer greetings; the traditional greeting is ``May you live a hundred years,'' or ``May your shadow never grow dim,'' that is, may you keep your good health.
Fifteen days before March 21, households begin preparation of plants that are often given as gifts to family and friends. Grains of wheat, lentil, or barley are germinated in water. Porous clay jars are filled with water and then the grain is bound to the outside of the jars with absorbent cotton material. Within a few days, the grain begins to sprout and cling to the jar and the cotton cloth can be removed.
The sprouting grain grows upward to the light of the sun, and by Noruz a delightful mass of fresh green blades heralds the spring. In some homes the germinated seeds are put on a simple plate. In whatever form, this is a beautiful symbol of new life. This gift is kept until the 13th day of Noruz and then disposed of and thrown into running water, if possible. With this tradition, the household throws away all misfortune.