Sizdah-Bedar in the Netherlands. Photograph: Persian Dutch Network

After 12 days of joyous festivities, Nowruz draws to a close on the thirteenth day of the New Year with a picnic in the outdoors. Known as Sizdah Bedar, and literally translated as the “Thirteenth [Day] out of doors,” it is celebrated on the 13th day of Farvardin, which this year falls on Sunday, April 2, 2017. It is considered unlucky to stay home, so on this day fields, plains, parks and gardens are filled with families, old and young, who leave their homes to spend the day outdoors, preferably by a river or a stream.

Alak-Dolak (tip-cat) in action.

Spreading a carpet on the ground as a samovar brews fresh tea, celebrants enjoy a festive picnic, playing chess, backgammon, or cards, singing, dancing, and listening to music, chatting, or simply resting along the banks of the river. They can sometimes also be found playing Alak-Dolak (tip-cat): a game that is similar to baseball and played with wooden sticks. A bat (dolak) is used to strike a wooden peg (alak), then it’s recovered by fielders and thrown at the dolak placed on the ground.

Sizdah Bedar is a day to celebrate nature. Iranians believe that by going outdoors, they welcome the spring and leave behind all the bad luck associated with the number thirteen. (It is not clear when Iranians began to think of thirteen as an unlucky number; it probably comes from the popular Muslim belief that the 13th day of the month is a day with unfortunate consequences.)

The Sofreh-ye Haft Sin, the centerpiece of Nowruz, is disassembled beforehand. On Sizdah Bedar, the sabzeh or green sprouts grown especially for Nowruz are thrown into a flowing stream of water, accompanied by a wish that they take with them any misfortune for the coming year. It is believed that the sabzeh embodies all of the inauspicious thoughts and feelings in a home, and disposing of the sabzeh rids the household of all misfortune and ailments.

Unmarried girls pray for good fortune and success in finding a husband by knotting blades of grass in the fields and uttering the words:

Sal-I digar, Khane-I showhar, bachcheh dar baghal
(Let next year find me in my husband’s house with a baby in my arms)

Elaborate meals are prepared, and large quantities of fruits, nuts, and sweets are consumed. A favorite on this occasion is Ash-e Reshteh, a noodle soup made with chopped spinach and parsley, kidney beans, brown lentils, whey (kashk), and Iranian noodles or Reshteh. The noodles are said to symbolize good fortune for the New Year. Another favorite is Baghali Polo Ba Bareh or Persian Dill and Fava Bean Rice with lamb.

Sabzi khordan or fresh herbs including mint, tarragon and basil, radishes and spring onions serve as appetizers with flatbread and feta cheese. These green vegetables and herbs are central to the feast of Nowruz, and speak to its deeper significance: celebrating new life and the arrival of spring.

Sizdah Bedar has no religious connotation and is celebrated by all. It marks the end of the Nowruz festivities, and ends with the setting of the sun. Schools and offices re-open the following day, and life resumes, leaving behind the previous year’s bad occurrences, with a new and positive outlook for the coming year.