Some say Nowruz, or Persian New Year, is a holiday that goes back 2,500 years. Seems impossible, but everyone agrees it is one of the world's oldest celebrations-- a celebration which continues to be one of the most looked-forward to events in the Persian calendar.
Part of the festivities include a picnic-- hopefully with a fire. Persians love their picnics-- as this devotion to picnics can be seen across the vast expanse of what was once the Great Persian Empire. From Turkey, Afghanistan, Central Asia to Kashmir-- even in Tehrangeles, in the more elegant part of LA-- people picnic around the vernal equinox.
It is a civilized pastime, very much like cherry-blossom viewing-- a day to relax and dream of paradise-- enjoying both the company and spring itself-- the birds, the clouds, the sunshine, and more than anything the flowers.
And, why is it that everything tastes better outdoors?
I was indoctrinated into picnics long before I came to Japan (by a Persian best friend back home). It is a custom which I carried with me to Japan-- where, of course, it fit like a glove.
So, every year we would celebrate the vernal equinox by picnicking. And, in my heart, this will always be the real New Year.
Like clockwork, the ducks and egrets return to the Uzumagawa River and specks of green start sprouting in the lawn-- yes, the return of life and the start of a new year. I cannot help but start imagining all the picnics and flower-viewing-- and somehow everything seems so filled with possibility.
The Kid and I usually would start taking to the mountains just before the equinox to go "baby fern hunting." Called "zenmai" 薇 you know how they are like little coiled springs waiting till it gets to be just the right time to unfurl?
They are so cute and adorable. I read once that ferns used to cover prehistoric forests... so maybe they're very old like dinosaurs? Can you imagine wandering in never-ending forests of ferns as huge, prehistoric dinosaur birds soared in the skies above?
There is an expression used in haiku poetry composition around this time of year: "Mountains smiling in early spring" Borrowed like so many other things from China, the painter who coined this phrase, the Northern Song painter and Literati great, Guo Xi, is most famous for his work titled Early Spring. His poem about mountains smiling appeared in an poetry anthology in Japanese known as 漢詩集 「臥遊録」 (yes, that's right, the Han Anthology Dream Journey Jottings)
Mountains smiling in early spring was a theme much appreciated at court-- even during my beloved's times-- which came about 100 years after the painter wrote his legendary poem. Imagine after what must have felt like an almost unendingly long period of cold and depressing "mountains sleeping," the mountains in March would seem to almost "spring" to life again.
This was also after all the best season for a love affair ---for of course, we all know everything is always dashed to hell by mid-Fall so it's better to get started early, right? :))
In China, people travel back to their hometowns around this time of year for qing ming to sweep the tombs of their ancestors and celebrate the return of spring-- very much like Japanese O-bon. There is also a custom of eating outdoors to celebrate spring.Some scholars see the Japanese cherry blossom-viewing custom having its roots in qing ming --as a day of family communion (between the living and the dead), picnics (celebrating spring) and purification. Ideally, one picnics on top of a hill and purified oneself in a river (to wash away in bad deeds or bad luck). There are probably poems about friends climbing hilltops （踏青）or maybe about picking mountain herbs (山菜摘み）...
It was this idea, of "stepping on blue" （踏青→ getting out and walking in nature）, along with the Japanese idea of the gods of the fields returning from their long slumber around this time of year that are most deeply connected to Japanese sensibilities surrounding cherry blossom viewing.
And, it's that time again.
Shalimar Garden; one of Srinagar's three famous "gardens of love," one the most memorable picnic I ever had in my life took place in the shade of one the garden's many chinar trees. Beautiful tulips were planted alongside the many fountains, and families sat in the pavilions as what seemed like an army of newleyweds strolled across the grass....Sultan's wife had prepared a true Persian picnic of pollo rice and yogurt, kebabs and tea served in glasses. Although nearly 20 years have passed since then, I will never forget it. Sultn's wife had brought the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever seen and we laughed and talked about the flowers and all the future children we would have.
To sit in the warm sunshine in a cool garden surrounded by the sounds of flowing water and laughing children truly is the perfect pastime for a spring day. I only wish I could go back in time and somehow insert my son right smack in the middle of the memory. Of course, he is war of rice with nuts and fruit in it and isn't crazy about tomatoes....Still, I think he could have really had fun in those fountains.
Persian New Year article in National Geographic: Persian New Year Transcends Religions, Regimes