Iranian New Year celebrations; customs and traditions
The Persian New Year is composed of several rituals and ceremonies which starts since the last Wednesday of every Iranian year (Chaharshanbe Suri) and continues to Sizdah Bedar. During the New Year celebrations, it is a custom and tradition that Iranian families go into the homes of their relatives and friends.
In this post, we’re going to introduce some customs and traditions of Iranian New Year celebrations which start since the Chaharshanbe Suri and continue to Sizdah Bedar.
1- Chaharshanbe Suri
Chahārshanbe-Sūri (Persian: چهارشنبه سوری, pronounced Chārshambe-Sūri) is the Persian Fire-Jumping Festival. Chahrshanbeh Souri means Wednesday Feast, from the word sour which means feast in Persian, or more plausibly, consider sūr to be a variant of sorkh (red) and take it to refer either to the fire itself or to the ruddiness (sorkhī), meaning good health or ripeness, supposedly obtained by jumping over it, is an ancient Iranian festival dating back to at least 1700 BCE of the early Zoroastrian era. Also called the Festival of Fire, it is a prelude to Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring. The words Chahar Shanbeh mean Wednesday and Suri means red. Bonfires are lit to “keep the sun alive” until early morning. The celebration usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them singing zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man. The literal translation is, my yellow is yours, your red is mine. This is a purification rite. Loosely translated, this means you want the fire to take your paleness, sickness, and problems and in turn give you redness, warmth, and energy. There are Zoroastrian religious significance attached to Chaharshanbeh Soori and it serves as a cultural festival for Iranian people: Persian Jews, Persian Muslims, Assyrians who are native to Iran, Persian Armenians, Kurds, and Zoroastrians.
2- Nowruz and Haft-seen
Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, it is also celebrated in parts of the South Asian sub-continent as the New Year. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals.
Originally being a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all, Nowruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, although there is no clear date of origin. Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox. Nowruz is also a holy day for Sufis, Bektashis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis and Babis Faith.
The term Nowruz in writing first appeared in Persian records in the 2nd century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 548–330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the Emperor, also called King of Kings (Shahanshah), of Persia on Nowruz. The significance of Nowruz in the Achaemenid Empire was such that the great Persian king Cambyses II’s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimized only after his participation in the New Year festival (Nowruz).
The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognized the International Day of Nowruz, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2021 in Abu Dhabi, Nowrūz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Haft-Seen (Persian: هفتسین) or the seven ‘S’s is a traditional table setting of Nowruz, the traditional Iranian spring celebration. The haft seen table includes seven items all starting with the letter seen (س) in the Persian alphabet. Haft-Seen was originally called Haftchin (Haftĉin) derived from the words Chin (چین), meaning “gather; pile up” and Haft (هفت), the number 7. The Haft Chin table includes the following items which symbolize Zoroastrian yazatas or divinities such as ātar and asmān.
The “Haft Chin” items are:
- Mirror - symbolizing Sky
- Apple - symbolizing Earth
- Candles - symbolizing Fire
- Golab - rose water symbolizing Water
- Sabzeh - wheat, or barley sprouts symbolizing Plants
- Goldfish - symbolizing Animals
- Painted Eggs - symbolizing Humans and Fertility
The term and therefore the original custom was changed due to the digraph Ch (چ) not being present in the Arabic language leading to its replacement by the letter S (س).
3- Sizdah Bedar
Sizdahbedar or Sizdah Be-dar (also frequently stylized as “13 Bedar”) (Persian: سیزده بدر) is the name of a ceremony in Persian Culture. Sizdah is the Persian term for thirteen. Leaving the house on the Thirteenth Day of Farvardin (the first month of Iranian calendar), and joyfully spending the day outdoors have been a national tradition since ancient times in Iran. Sizdah Bedar (in English: Getting rid of the Thirteenth) has been possibly considered as a tradition because some people believe the thirteen is an unlucky number, and everybody should get rid of the thirteen. That interpretation may be disputed since it is documented that in Persian, Bedar may also mean Raftan-e beh Dar-o Dasht (in English: Going Outdoors and Country Sides). Most of the times Sizdah Bedar coincides with the first day of April, which is known as April Fools’ Day in the Western Culture.
Like the Iranian New Year (in Persian: Nowruz), the tradition of Sizdah Bedar also traces back to the era of legendary king Jamshid who celebrated this outdoor festival together with his people, the Iranians. Researcher Mohammad Ahmad Panahi Semnaani noted that, “The essence of the Sizdah Bedar ceremonies is the enthusiasm to set up a family, lead a happy life and form friendship. By growing sprouts, ancient Iranians expressed their spirit for green environment and seek further divine blessings in the form of rain for their farmlands. Iranians believed that the Demon of Drought was defeated at midday of Sizdah Bedar. They used to sacrifice sheep and cook kebab in the open areas to celebrate victory of the Angel of Rain against the Demon of Drought”.
Sizdah Bedar has also its roots in the Zoroastrian belief that laughter and joy symbolize the throwing away of all bad thoughts. According to Zoroastrianism, the bad thoughts are coming from the Devil Angra Mainyu (in Middle Persian: Ahriman) and the celebrations of New Year and Sizdah Bedar will cleanse all bad thoughts. Avesta, the holy scripture of the Zoroastrian faith, recalls that all those who love purity were responsible for celebrating Sizdah Bedar to help the Angel of Goodness prevail over the earth in the struggle against the Evil and the Devil.