There is an old saying in Iran, the country is very fond of old proverbs. The point is: One would think the best time to break in would be during the Persian New Year, when Iranians spend their holidays at home, sometimes several days at a time. There’s just one problem. All the thieves are celebrating.

The Persian New Year or Noroz (also spelled Novruz, new day, in Farsi) marks the arrival of spring. Traditionally, many celebrities take to the streets during the 13-day holiday to celebrate the end of the long winter that has kept them indoors. Children can participate in raffles. Their parents and grandparents jump over bonfires in public places as a cleansing ritual.

The last day of the holiday is the national day of rest in Iran. Families flock to parks, mountains and streams to enjoy fresh herbs, fruits and other spring foods.

In the Persian calendar, following nature is very important, says Mo Momtazi, founder of Maysara Winery.

This year the holiday falls on the 20th. In March, over 365 days when the new coronavirus pandemic forced non-essential workers to stay home. For the second year in a row, most Noroz residents will celebrate and make up virtually, while the Zoom simulacrum fills with real parks, lakes and family reunions in the background.

Last year, Nowruz began as a pandemic, and it was the first time in many years that we celebrated without our family. Fortunately, we were able to keep in touch with our children and grandchildren via FaceTime, says Shahpar Khaledi, owner of Darioush Winery in Napa. She and her husband, Dariusz Khaledi, ate their favorite New Year’s Eve dishes at a double table, she said.

Shahpar and Darious Khaledi of Darioush Winery / Photo: Alexander Rubin

This year we are grateful for the vaccination and plan to have a quiet lunch in our garden with only three close relatives, says Khaledi. We look forward to seeing the big family again next year.

Noroz is a pre-Islamic ritual that dates back thousands of years to the time when belief in Zoroastrianism was widespread in Persia. Since then, the diaspora of the Persian Empire has spread across Asia and Africa and in and out of successive empires, and today Noroz is celebrated worldwide by Iranians and non-Iranians alike.

Chief Hoss Zare recalls his childhood in Iran, where among his neighbors were Armenian Christians and Baha’is, all of whom celebrated Norooz with their Muslim families.

When you’re home in the cold and dark of winter, the world breathes again, he says. Nature has opened her arms to us.

On Noroz day, Zara’s parents left new shoes, socks and shirts next to her bed. The gifts waited while her mother cleaned the house and set a table richly filled with holiday symbols, including kale, gold coins and a swimming goldfish.

He says hospitality and reconciliation were in the air, along with the aromas of his mother’s Norooz lentil porridge and stuffed grape leaves. These, he said, are jewel boxes that contain Mother Nature’s finest ingredients. You would eat them to maximize your blessings.

Darioush Winery Signature Shiraz, made from the grape named after the Iranian city known for its gardens and literature / Photo courtesy of Darioush

Zare swears by a good white wine with fish, which is often served with spiced rice during the Persian New Year. He says appetizers of dill trout and halibut and main courses of cod go perfectly with the zesty Viognier.

Khaledi agrees. On the first day of Nooruz, his family drinks Viognier with their fried white fish and sabzi polo, or grass-fed Persian rice. During the week, she serves Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with heartier dishes like brown rice with raisin noodles and dates, spicy kuku, or Persian frittata and chicken stew, and lamb stew with lemon, parsley, onion, fenugreek and black peas.

Momtazi says wine plays an important role on Nuruz’s table.

Wine was the liquid embodiment of the sun in Persian culture, and the sun was highly respected, he says. Wine was considered the result of the union of the sun with the earth and was a gift from heaven.

Zare hopes the upcoming virtual New Year will be Zoom’s last celebration for now.

We had a harsh winter, and we suffered from it for a whole year, he says. Yeah, we’re not as open as we’d like to be. Not yet. But you can really feel it as a resource. It’s literally a new day.

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