Haft Sin or the seven 'S's is a major tradition of Norooz, the traditional Iranian new year. It is possible that Haft Sin was initially Haft Sini, or seven trays of essential symbols, which gradually was shortened to Haft Sin. The haft sin table includes seven items specifically starting with the letter S or Sin. The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. Another interpretation is that Haft Sin represents the seven planets that rule human destiny and are responsible for the sacredness of the number seven. It was thought that if anybody would have access to all the seven – that implies that one attracts the blessing of all these seven planets – one would attain happiness.
While Haft Sin has evolved over time, but it has kept its symbolism. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a Haft Sin table as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Norooz visitations and is a reflection of their good taste. Possible and common Haft Sin items are:
- Sabzeh - Wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing a few inches tall in a dish, symbolizing rebirth. In the ancient times, twenty-five days before New Year, 12 large cylindrical shaped containers made from raw brick were erected in the city center (one for each month). Different seeds were planted in each including wheat, barley, lentils and rice. On the sixth day of Farvardin, the new growths were pulled out and scattered around with music, songs and dancing. This was done to estimate the growth of various seeds for the new season and to know how good a crop they could expect in the coming year.
- Samanoo - A sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence and was assumed to enhance sexual powers. It is associated with Anahita and is traditionally prepared by women, especially those wanting children.
- Senjed, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love.
- Sir – Garlic, symbolizing medicine. Garlic was used by the Iranians as medicine and a means of warding off demonic powers and bad omens.
- Sib, apples, symbolizing beauty and health.
- Somaq symbolizing the color of sunrise.
- Serkeh – Vinegar, symbolizing age and patience, having originated as grapes and undergone many transformations. Wine was always present since it represented liquid gold and was used at all religious ceremonies, however, after the Arab conquest it has been replaced by vinegar as alcohol is banned in Islam.
- Sonbol - The fragrant hyacinth flower, symbolizing the coming of spring. In ancient times they symbolized the two deities Khordad and Amurdad.
- Sekkeh – Coins, symbolizing prosperity and wealth and in ancient times were associated with the deity Sharivar.
Other items on the table may include:
- Traditional Iranian pastries such as baklava and also toot, noon-nokhodchi, dried nuts, berries and raisins. Iranians believed that by eating such sweets their life would be sweet and good in the coming year.
- Lit candles for enlightenment and happiness and traditionally according to the number of the children in the household. Lit candles are a symbol of purifying fire.
- A mirror. Mirrors were significant items in Zoroastrian symbolism, art and architecture and still are an integral part of most Iranian celebrations including marriage ceremonies.
- Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family and a universal symbol of fertility representing Mother Earth.
- A bowl with goldfish for life and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving. The fish represent the mythical fish Kara Mahi, which swims in the mythical Vouruka Sea and wards off harmful creatures.
- A bowl of water with an orange in it symbolizing the earth floating in space. Anahita is represented by rain water collected especially for this occasion and the fish are also normally placed in this water.
- Esfand, seeds of wild rue, often placed in a small incense burner and burned just after the turn of the year.
- Rose water for its magical cleansing powers.
- The national colors, for a patriotic touch.
- A holy book.
- The Shahnameh or Divan of Hafez.
The history of the custom is obscure. There is a dubious and isolated reference to it in a Persian manuscript attributed to the Safavid period but otherwise it is rarely mentioned in the eyewitness accounts of the Norooz ceremonies by nineteenth-century travelers and historians. Only Heinrich Brugsch, who was in Tehran in 1860 and described the Norooz festival in some detail, claims that the Iranians greeted the national festival by planting in their gardens flowers with names beginning with the letter S. However, if one considers the Norooz spread as a whole and disregards the letter sin, its essential items perfectly afford reasonable explanation as the reflections of the pastoral and sedentary conditions of ancient Iranians and of their belief that the souls of the departed come down and partake of the table.
The real significance of seven may have been to represent the "Seven Eternal Laws", which embodies the Teachings of Zoroaster. It was a way of preserving and a reminder of the teachings of Zoroaster. Further evidence are the reliefs at Persepolis which depict seven people from each country carrying Norooz gifts, thus emphasizing the importance of seven.