Happy New Year! Yes, you read that right. March 20th is Persian New Year when people across Persia gather to share food and festivities with family and friends. While the West typically rings in the new year in January, the Persian new year is observed at the beginning of the Spring equinox; as the days grow longer, the weather warms up, and there are longer hours of sunlight. The holiday is called Nowruz, which is the Farsi word for “New Day.” This celebration carries a lot of weight and meaning for the underground church in Iran, so learning about it can give us a glimpse into their world.
The Origins of Nowruz
Nowruz has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. It stems from an ancient religion called Zoroastrianism, which predates Islam and worships a god called Ahuramazda. Throughout the holiday, people use different foods and herbs as symbols of good luck, such as apples (symbol of health/beauty), dried oleaster berried (wisdom/rebirth), wheat pudding (strength/justice), sumac (patience), vinegar (age/patience), and garlic (cleansing).
Growing wheat grass, barley, or lentils on a bowl is also common. Once it sprouts, representing new life, they place it on a table with other symbolic items to decorate, along with painted eggs. Traditions vary from country to country, but each is a way to celebrate new beginnings.
How is Nowruz Celebrated in Iran?
The Iranian people start preparations for the holiday a month prior with Khaneh Takani, which means “shaking down the house.” This is a thorough house cleaning to purge your home of the old and usher in the new. Khaneh Takani can include home renovations like painting walls, deep-cleaning each surface, and even throwing out old food in the pantry. This Spring cleaning is a traditional way to prepare for all the new year brings rather than staying stuck in stale routines from years past.
As festivities begin, they fill their homes with delicious food, festive music, and joyous celebration. Often, people will visit their friends to exchange gifts and extend generosity. After a long, cold winter, it is a relief to welcome warmth and sunshine again.
How do Christians Celebrate Nowruz?
Though some of Nowruz’s traditions are based in false religions, Christians always have a reason to celebrate new life. Rather than focusing on good luck charms, they can pray to a living God that provides true hope. The symbolism of purging old things is also a relevant concept for believers. Just like the Persians start their traditional spring cleaning about a month before the holiday, Christians have historically observed the month before Easter as a time of sacrifice and repentance.
The Lenten season is a time when believers examine their lives to purge sin and vices, so they can embrace the freedom and joy that comes through the resurrection. Those who give up simple comforts this season are confronted with how weak they are when they don’t use coping mechanisms. This is a powerful reminder that we need Christ in every moment.
The Persecuted Church Sacrificing for the Sake of Christ
The persecuted church knows this feeling well. They don’t have the luxury of filling their lives with comforts and indulgence. Instead, they have chosen to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. They are intimately aware of their dependence on Christ but also know the power of the cross. The Christians in the underground church don’t want their lives to be filled with sin or darkness. So, as they usher in the new year, they surrender anew to the Lord.
Those of us who have access to the many comforts and luxuries in the West can be tempted to cling on to many things apart from Christ, holding them tightly and unwilling to let them go. In Phillippians 3:7-9, Paul wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” We can be inspired by the Iranian believers who know that following Christ is the most valuable thing in their lives.
They will give up anything necessary to remain in Him. They model Christ’s example in Phillippians 2:7-8, which says, “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” We should be encouraged by the faith of Iranian Christians who are willing to be obedient to the point of death because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
New Beginnings and New Life
Iranian believers have not lost hope despite the somber realities of violence, corruption, and persecution. As they celebrate the New Year, they can reflect on all the ways God has sustained them through trials and hardships. Some Iranian believers have faced persecution harsher and more intense this year than any year prior. Though you or I may be disheartened by this, wondering how much worse it may get in the year ahead, the Iranian believers rejoice for the joy set before them.
They consider it a gift and a blessing to suffer for their Savior because He suffered for them. Their suffering is producing fruit because the church in Iran is growing like never before. People are surrendering their lives to Jesus for the first time and experiencing the new life that He offers. This season of new beginnings is filled with opportunities for the underground church to extend new life to their friends and neighbors.
Though believers in the West celebrated the new year months ago, the season of Easter is upon us. This is a celebration of new beginnings, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Our brothers and sisters across the world are sacrificing their homes, loved ones, and even their bodies to spread this good news to others. In the West, we have even more freedom to share our faith and celebrate the hope of the resurrection. Do we? As we consider the joy set before us, may we be emboldened by Iranian believers to share the story of Jesus in our own communities.
Standing with Iranian Believers
As you join with Iranian believers in heart and mind, would you also join them in prayer and generosity? Persian New Year is a time when friends and neighbors extend generosity to one another, so there’s no better time to let the Iranian Christians know you are standing with them. Your generosity and sacrifice from your own wealth can help the Iranian church share the riches of Christ with more people through discipleship materials, physical resources, and leadership coaching.