Walk into an Iranian home during Nowruz, the Persian New Year that begins with the spring equinox, and you’ll be greeted by what may be an unusual sight: an altar laid with ritual objects, including a shock of green wheatgrass, a mirror and candles, and seven dishes. Each dish holds a different food that starts with the letter “S”. But the most eye-catching item of all may be a bowl of live goldfish darting to and fro. In recent decades, the millions of goldfish bought for Nowruz have churned up controversy: After the holiday, they’re released into rivers and ponds where, for the most part, they die. To avoid this while still paying homage to tradition, I have a solution. Enter: marzipan goldfish, a harmless stand-in that’s edible to boot.
It’s unclear when the goldfish wiggled their way onto the Sofreh Haft Seen, the table of seven “S”s, the setting of which has been performed in Iran since at least Zoroastrian times. The table is a blueprint for the year ahead, with each item representing a desired quality like health, wealth, and love. Goldfish, signifying life, add a dramatic splash of color to the New Year table and are traditionally released into the wild after the celebration; however, they’re unlikely to survive the transition. Lately, many are coming up with creative ways to replace the live goldfish, whether with a plastic toy, a drawing, or even an orange in a bowl.