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Holidays and Celebrations

Charlotte Albright

Noruz (New Year)

Imagine celebrating New Year not in the dead of winter, but at the beginning of spring, with return of the birds and flowering trees. This has been the custom for Iranians for thousands for of years! For Iranians the New Year or Noruz begins at the vernal equinox, the precise time in the spring when the sun crosses the equator making the day and night equal length. The vernal equinox usually falls on March 21. Noruz means “new day” in the Persian language and is pronounced “no rooz.” Today Noruz is a celebration lasting from Tuesday evening before the vernal equinox until the 13th day afterward. For this happy festival families enjoy getting together, preparing special food, and decorating their houses with special symbolic objects.

Origins

The Noruz festival is rooted in Iran’s ancient past. According to legend the mythical king Jamshid first taught his people to build, weave, mine, and make weapons. He then conquered demons build him a crystal carriage which carried him across the sky. Iranians began to celebrate Noruz to commemorate the flight of the crystal carriage.

Whatever the legends, many people around the world have celebrations at the beginning of the growing season to welcome warmer weather, wish for abundant crops and flocks, and to say goodbye to the harsh winter months. The Iranian Noruz festival has much in common with these agricultural celebrations.

Before Iranians converted to Islam (see inset) in the seventh century A.D., they had been Zoroastrians for nearly 1600 years. Zoroastrianism emphasized that people should try to be good and avoid evil. It was during the centuries when the Iranians were Zoroastrians that the celebrations for Noruz were formalized. The Noruz feast was only one of 23 religious feasts celebrated during the year. It is one of the few of those old Zoroastrian feasts that is celebrated by Iranians today.

Char Shanbeh Suri

Today begin the festival of Noruz the Tuesday evening before the vernal equinox. The day and the event are called “Char Shanbeh Suri.” Families light small bonfires and everyone is supposed to jump over them. As they jump, people say, “My yellowness to you, your redness to me,” meaning that the fire should burn up people’s winter paleness and sickness and give back a rosy complexion and good health.

Getting Ready

In preparation for the New Year’s celebrations Iranians give their homes a thorough cleaning: rugs and drapes are washed, furniture cleaned, the house repaired. Everyone is supposed to get new clothes and shoes.

The Noruz Table

Iranians say the new year has began the exact moment when the earth enters Aries (see inset article on the calendar) on New Year’s day. A special table is prepared for this moment. Families place lighted candles or a lamp on the table, along with a mirror, special food prepared to eat on this day, colored eggs, a holy book (depending on the family’s faith), and often a bowl of water with a goldfish in it. The goldfish symbolizes life.

In addition, the family sets out a plate containing seven items that all begin with the letter “S”. These “seven S’s” are (with some variation from region to region): sib (apple), sabzeh (greens), sir (garlic), serkeh (vinegar), senjed (Bohemian olive), and sonbol (hyacinth).

At the moment the new year begins, family members all hug and kiss one another and exchange gifts and money. The family may then eat the special food that they have prepared. The food often includes steamed rice mixed with herbs and fried fish. In the days following New Year’s day, family members visit one another and also visit the older members of their families first- grandparents and older aunts and uncles, and then the younger family member. Other special events sometimes take place: young boys may have wrestling matches, or groups of clowns and acrobats parade through streets and perform for the public.

Sizdeh Bedar

On the thirteenth day after New Year’s Day everyone who possibly can packs up a huge picnic lunch and heads outside, preferably out of town. It is considered unlucky to sped this day, called Sizdeh Bedar, inside. Families spend the day outside along the banks of a stream or in green fields eating their picnic feast, drinking tea, and playing games. Sometimes the young unmarried girls will tie knots in the grass and wish for a husband during the coming year. On this day people throw out the greens that they grew for New Year’s Day. If possible, the greens are thrown into running water- a tradition followed because the greens should take away the family’s bad luck. With all the excitement of the Noruz festival- the special food, gifts, and family activities, you can see why Noruz is the most joyous Iranian holiday and one particularly laved by children.

Fascinating Facts About the Iranian Calendar

Iranians use two calendars, a solar and a lunar calendar has 365 days and is divided into 12 months, each named for constellation, based on the signs of the zodiac. The zodiac is an imaginary belt in the sky extending for eight degrees on either side of the apparent path of the sun and including the paths of the moon and principal planets. Each month runs from approximately the 21st to the 20th of each of our month. You can see how the Persian months line up next to the western names for the signs of the zodiac in this chart:

Signs (Months) of the Zodiac

Date Latin Name Persian Name
March 21 Aries Farvardin
April 21 Taurus Ordibehesht
May 21 Gemini Khordad
June 21 Cancer Tir
July 21 Leo Mordad
August 22 Virgo Shahrivar
September 22 Libra Mehr
October 21 Scorpio Aban
November 21 Sagittarius Azar
December 21 Capricorn Dey
January 21 Aquarius Bahman
February 21 Pisces Isfand

Iranians use the solar calendar to mark national holidays and the beginning of the year.

By contrast, the lunar calendar is used to mark all the special days for Muslims in Iran (as well as other Muslim nations). The lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, or 354 days. Since the lunar year is shorter than the solar year, the lunar months do not coincide with the solar months and religious events observed on the lunar calendar occur 11 days earlier each successive year!

The first year for both the solar and lunar calendars in Iran is 622 A.D. Why? The paragraphs below give the answer, but also look at the unit on “Religion” in the handbook.

Islam- A Brief Definition

Islam is a religion in which believers submit to one God (the same God as the god of the Christians and Jews) and accept Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as his prophet and messenger. Today there are probably one billion Muslims around the world divided into main groups of Muslims: Sunni and Shi’a. Muslims in Iran are primarily Shi’a Muslims.

In 622 A.D. the Prophet Muhammad moved with his followers from Mecca, in the Arabian peninsula, to the city of Medina to the north. In Medina, Muhammad became both the religious and political leader of the community of Muslims. Muslims count time beginning with this date, so that 622 A.D. is year 1 both in the Islamic calendar and the Iranian solar calendar.