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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What's up with that? Stars and Stripes:
   Iraqis selling goldfish by the bagful

This is a Q&A feature column, "Explaining customs from around the world" in the Stars and Strips. Online PDFs of the three daily editions (Pacific, Mideast, European) can be found HERE.

Q. All of the sudden, one day a few weeks ago, a bunch of shops [here in Iraq] suddenly started stocking goldfish. I mean, hundreds of goldfish that people were buying and taking home in little plastic bags. What's up with that?

A. What you saw was one of the traditions that goes along with "No Ruz", the Persian New Year. This celebration goes back to pre-Islamic times, when the people of ancient Persia (now Iran) celebrated the Spring Equinox.

One of the most important No Ruz rituals is the "Haft Seen," in which a table in a home is set with seven items that begin with the letter "s" in the Farsi language. Those items include sprouts grown prior to No Ruz (which are then tossed into running water on the last day of the holiday); vinegar; dried fruit; hyacinth flowers; coins; apples and a few other items. Each of the items on the table is supposed to represent either the birth of the new year or something that the celebrants are hoping for in the upcoming year.

This is where the goldfish come in. They're sought after as a simple symbol of life and the rebirth that a new year brings. Some other symbolic items include candles to represent enlightenment, and pastries to represent (what else?) sweetness.

The roots of No Ruz are unclear, but it's mainly associated with the Zoroastrians.

This is not unlike what I see at Chinese New Year when various foods are prepared based on the sound their spoken words make. Each phonic-word in the Chinese language can be pronounced with four different accents or lilts (like the way you would change the lilt in your voice to differentiate between question, surprise or anger - You? You! YOU!).

Except, in Chinese, these lilts completely change the meaning of the word. So "fish" and "surplus" are the same phonic-word, except with a different accent. "Noodles" and "long life" (??) are another homophone pair.

So, you serve fish and noodles during the Chinese New Year to wish for lots of stuff and long life.

Also, reading about the two week Persian New Year festivities at Wikipedia, I detect a lot of similarities with the Chinese New Year traditions.

There is also an interesting reference in Wikipedia's Chinese New Year article to it being a kind of Passover, not unlike the Jewish Passover, as well as details of the 15-day celebration that I thought about when I read about the two week No Ruz celebrations.

Makes you wonder about the extent of cross-culturalism in prehistory.


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