March 18, 2016

The Seder Plate's Persian Cousin

Posted by Haggadot

It turns out that Jews aren’t the only ones with a plate full of ritual items in the springtime. Persian new year, Nowruz, comes in the springtime (this year it falls on Sunday March 20th). And as part of the preparations for Nowruz, Persian families--Jewish, Muslim, and Christian--prepare haft-seen.

Haft means seven, and seen is a letter in the Persian alphabet that makes the s sound. Haft-seen is a plate or table that has seven things that start with the letter seen. Each item has a symbolic significance, and many are generally related to spring and rebirth.

 

Haft-seen contains

- seer | garlic | medicine

- samanu | wheat-based pudding | affluence (or fertility, depending on who you ask)

- seeb | apple | health and beauty

- serkeh | vinegar | old age and patience

- sabzeh | sprouts or greens (usually sprouted lentils or wheat sprouts) | rebirth

- senjed | wild olive | love

- somagh | dried sumac berries | sunrise
 

And that’s not all. Many haft-seen tables include a slew of other objects that are related to the season. You might find:

- sekkeh | coins | prosperity

- sonbol | hyacinth | spring

- goldfish | life

- colored eggs | birth, new life, etc.

- candles | light

- a mirror | also light

- a sacred book

Haft-seen is not a religious holiday, so it is celebrated by nearly all Persians, including Jewish Persians, who will be setting up their seder tables in just a few weeks. And these Persian Jewish families are getting a head start on cleaning for Passover, because besides haft-seen, another way families prepare for Nowruz is by khooneh takooni. This translates literally to "shaking the house" and is basically a thorough spring cleaning.

Want to see some beautiful pictures of haft-seen tables? Check out our pinterest board with some gorgeous examples, and take some inspiration for your own seder table.

Looking to update your seder plate? Over time, the most basic components of the seder plate have been joined by some new friends. There’s an orange, symbolizing the struggle by Jews who used to be ignored by our tradition—like gays and lesbians, and women, and Jews by choice. A tomato, to represent modern day slavery. An olive for peace in Israel and Palestine. A roasted beet “bleeds” to provide a vegan alternative to a shank bone. Find more on all aspects of the seder plate over in the clip library.

Wishing you a happy Nowruz!