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Festivals in Iran

Nowruz (Persian New Year)

As the spring’s footsteps start tickling the ears, lilies, daffodils and narcissus wake up to bloom, the impatient Iranians awaiting the spring, set up a colorful celebration to give it a red carpet welcome.Nowruz is the Persians’ longest and most cherished festivity, on which all Iranians celebrate the New Year with the nature’s resurrection from withered winter. It is deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism and counts as the oldest Iranian festival. Nowruz ancientness, variety, colorfulness, and rich symbolism mark it off from its peers in other nations and countries. Nowruz is the Celebration of Life; it is determined according to the spring equinox and coincides with March 21, or the previous/following day, marking the start of the spring in the northern hemisphere. Nowruz’s characteristic herald, the old tambourine man, Hajji Firuz, with black-painted face and a redgarb on, goes out in the cities and villages and while dancing and singing gay and cheerful notes, spreads high spirits and delight among the public. He is the messenger of health, power, happiness and abundance inNew Year. His traditional musical instruments are trumpet and tambourine; while his traditional song is “Hajji Firuz-e, Saali Ye Ruz-e”, which means “It is Hajji Firuz, coming only once a year”. Along with his troupe of musicians, he strolls on the streets, alleyways, and other passages entertaining people. Generous people impressed by the performance often present the artists with some tip and at the end of the performance the members are invited to a nice Nowruzian meal, and finally granted an Eidi (Nowruz gift). Esfand, the last month of the year is the high time for a welcoming preparation. To begin with, the 19 housekeepers set out to do the spring-cleaning, “Khaane-Tekaani” in Persian, which mainly entails the washing of the carpets and the other must-wash items and furniture. The other preparation is growing “Sabzeh” (wheat, lentil, or barley seeds) in some pot, which is done about 2 or 3 weeks before Nowruz but today many people simply buy them. One other preparation to welcome Nowruz is “Nowruzian shopping”, called “Kharid-e Nowruzi”.It includes purchasing new clothes, sweets, flower (in particular hyacinths and tulips) and the articles of “Haft Sin “. Number ‘seven’ has got a holy position in the Persian mythology. We are told of seven levels of earth and heaven, seven deities superior to others, seven constellations which controlled the fate of the mortals and even seven days in a week. Seven-S spread, in Persian called “Sofreye Haft Sin”, is the inextricable component of all homes on Nowruz. Sofreh means spread or tablecloth and Haft Sin, seven-S. Zoroastrians of Iran used to decorate their Haft Sin in seven big trays each bearing seven kinds of foods. The role of Haft Sin is very comparable to that of the Christmas tree in the Christian countries. Each item has its own symbolism, which stems from the advent of the custom.

Sizdah Bezar

Millions of Iranians spend outdoors on the final day of celebrations for the New Year holidays. The term sizdah bedar literally means “out with the thirteenth”. To Iranians, the number “13” symbolizes evil and bad luck. The annual “Sizdah Bedar” picnic is based on an ancient Iranian tradition that encourages peopleto avoid any ill omens at home by going outdoors on the 13th day of the new year. This day inaugurates a happy New Year. Friends and neighbours usually organize a picnic in the countryside at which noodle soup or dishes of rice in sauce are eaten. People go andsee the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. The young play traditional games and sports and girls have special tradition. No conflict should be initiated on 20 this day. Since ancient times, Iranians have enjoyed their yearly trek to the outdoors, when families set off for green and open spaces. In Iranian tradition, the first 12 days of the new year symbolize order in the world and in people’s lives. The 13th day marks the return to ordinary daily life. Historians believe that the traditions observed during “Sizdah Bedar” date back to the lives of ancient Iranians. In one of the traditions, young ladies tie together blades of grass in hope of finding their ideal husbands. The gesture represents the bond between a man and a woman. Girls weave together fresh herbs, singing as they do so in a low voice: Sizdah bedar,sal-e degar, khaneye shohar, bacheh be baqal (sizdah bedar, next year, at the husband’s house, a baby in my arms). According to the Avesta, the holy scriptures of the Zoroastrians, celebrating “Sizdah Bedar” helps Spenta Mainyu (the holy spirit) prevail over Angra Mainyu (the evil spirit).

Chaharshanbe Suri

“Give me your fiery red color/ take back my wintry sallowness.” The Chaharshanbe Suri or Red Wednesday, counts among the only two extant one of those fire-connected festivities. It is an annual ritual which is held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Iranian year. From among the Aryan festivals and feasts, some of the most important ones pertained to fire, the symbol of good health, cultivation, light, and purity to the Iranian. Chaharshanbe-Suri, “The Red Wednesday”, counts among the only two extant one of those fire-connected festivities. It is an annual ritual which is held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Iranian year. It is believed that the ritual guarantees the dissipation of the misfortunes and evils, and of course, the materialization of people’s hopes and desires for the next year. It dates back to before the Arab Conquest of Iran; when the Iranian year was made up of 360 days with 5 extra days during which the Zoroastrians would build fires to invite their ancestors’ ghosts to their homes.

Yalda (Victory of Light over Darkness)

On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory oflight over darkness. Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. Every 21st of December Iranians celebrate Yalda which means birth in Syriac. It is believed that when this night ends, days become longer as light (Sun) has defeated darkness. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda. The Persians would burn fires all night to ensure the defeat of evil. They would holdfeasts, raise charity, honor their deities and pray to the goddess Mithra. As Yalda coincides with the beginning of winter, people also celebrated the end of the previous harvest by eating dried and fresh fruits and praying to the deities for a bumper winter crop next year. One of the main features of the Yalda festival was the temporary subversion of order, which lasted up to the Sassanid period. Masters served servants, children headed the family and a mock king was crowned. Today the Yalda festival is a time when family members gather at the home of the elders until after midnight. Guests are served with dried fruits, nuts, and winter fruits like pomegranates and watermelons, which symbolize the red color of dawn in the sky. They also practice bibliomancy with the poetry of the highly respected mystic Iranian poet Hafez. Persians believe whenever one is faced with difficulties or has a general question, one can ask the poet for an answer. Hafiz sings to the questioner in his own enigmatic way and allows individuals to look in the mirror of their soul through his poems.

Qaashoq-Zani (Spoon-hitting)

Very much like Halloween and in full disguise, usually a veil (chador) covering the entire body, longing youths go to seven different houses and make a noise by hitting a bowl with a spoon to signal the household residing in the house. Being presented, by the household, with some treat betokens a positive omen, and vice versa. Faal-e-Gusheneshini (solitary telling of the fortune) Young women longing for a spouse make a wish, then having hidden themselves in some invisible dark corner of a passage, listen to the passers-by’s talks, according to which they decide whether their wish will or will not be fulfilled; passers-by’s positive talk signifies good omens, and unpleasant words point to some ill portent.

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